Metaphysics In Marble

Op-Ed Contributor

Published on 06 December 2013

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by Mary Ann Sures


Irving, CA

Ayn Rand Institute (Logo)
Ayn Rand Institute (Logo)

Part I

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” (Ayn Rand, “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” The Objectivist Newsletter, April 1965.)

Given the definition of art, one often hears the question of how metaphysical abstractions can be conveyed in a visual art such as sculpture.

This discussion is a brief historical survey to answer that question: to indicate the means by which sculpture expresses abstractionsand to demonstrate the connection between the dominant philosophy of a given era and its sculpture.

The history of sculpture is a history of man’s view of manof his body and spirit, i.e., of his metaphysical nature. Every culture, from the most primitive to the most civilized, has held an estimate of man and has wanted to see the objectified reality of that estimate. Man has been the predominant subject of sculpture, whether he was judged to be an object of pride or of shame, a hero or a sinner.

A metaphysical view of man is projected by the manner in which the sculptor presents the human figure. In the process of shaping clay or wood or stone into the form of a body, the sculptor reveals his answer to three questions: Is man a being of free will or is he a helpless puppet of fate?Is he good or evil?Can he achieve happiness or is he doomed to misery?and then mounts his answer on a pedestal and puts it in a tomb or in a temple or over the portal of a church or in a living room in New York City.

The ancient Egyptian put his answer in a tomb or temple; both monuments symbolized his obsessive preoccupation with life after death. In a civilization saturated with magic and superstition, he worshiped gods in human, animal and monster formgods who, he believed, controlled his destiny and whom he placated with sacrificial offerings. Moving haltingly through what he believed to be an incomprehensible universe, his every step accompanied by ritual prescribed by the priests, he built temples to the gods and tombs for the dead, he chanted hymns to the dead, offered food to the dead, said prayers for the deadand then accepted payment for his efforts: he joined them.

This was the Egyptian’s concept of man’s nature and destiny: a mindless puppet with strings attached to hosts of deities who manipulated him through an unintelligible life, while beckoning him into a state of non-life. This is the view concretized in most Egyptian sculpture.


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This article was originally published in The Objectivist (February and March, 1969) and is recommended by Ayn Rand inThe Romantic Manifesto. The original article contained no footnotes or images, relying instead on vivid descriptions of the sculptures discussed. ARI is pleased to publish it here with new footnotes containing hyperlinks to images selected by the author.

Mary Ann Sures is an art historian who has lectured extensively, beginning in the early 1960s, on the application of Objectivist esthetics to the visual arts. She did graduate work in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University and at Hunter College, from which she received an M.A. She taught art history at New York University (Washington Square College) and at Hunter College. She is co-author with her late husband, Charles, of Facets of Ayn Rand, a memoir of their longtime friendship with Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor.


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Posted 2013-12-06 10:49:00