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History & Culture

Alive Even at Rest

A painting recommendation by by Lee Sandstead

Ayn Rand opened The Fountainhead with these lines: “He stood naked at the edge of a cliff…He felt the wind behind him, in the hollow of his spine…He had come here for his only relaxation, to swim, to rest, to think, to be alone and alive, whenever he could find one hour to spare.” Have you ever wanted to see this scene in paint, a portrait of a passionate valuer, alive even at rest?

Young Man Nude by Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864), shows us a man, much like Roark, who seeks the solemn and thoughtful, even at rest, and like Rand’s masterful opening to The Fountainhead, Flanderin uses an intriguing subject, beautiful imagery and simple visual devices to hold our attention.

The man serenely sits with his head upon his knees atop a granite pinnacle high above a sea. He is young, virile and full of health; he is beautiful. The man dominates the painting, and the composition is such that wherever the eye falls upon the painting, it is immediately drawn back to him; the lines of his granite seat thrust our eye upwards, only to be stopped by the angle of his arm, which connects the clouds in the upper-left to the crag in the lower right. The effect is that the composition directs our attention in a circular motion around his torso. If the primary function of painting is contemplation, then Flanderin definitely succeeds.

Flanderin asks us to think about rest as it should be — an act of thinking, an act of valuing, an act of enjoying. Notice how the man is enraptured in himself. Notice how strong he is. Notice where he is and think of what he had to do to get there. Think of the great lengths Flandrin went to focus and direct our eye on his subject. One does not normally conceive of rest in such passionate terms, but Flanderin asks us to think of rest as something other than freedom from activity. Ironically, Flandrin gave us a highly inspirational and beautiful painting — about the act of rest!

If you buy a print of this painting and hang it on your wall, as I have, then let it serve as a reminder to pursue rest with the planning and thought of a career goal or loved one. Make the act of rest highly personal, highly valued, and most of all, highly restful.

Linda Mann’s Paintings

By Lee Sandstead

Regarding art, Ayn Rand wrote that one’s psycho-epistemological sense of life is “an expression of that level of mental functioning on which the artist feels most at home.”1

Is consciousness active or passive? Is it efficacious or not? The answers to these questions are at the base of one’s psycho-epistemological sense of life and will condition what type of style an artist chooses and how the viewer responds.

To see this, look at Linda Mann’s “Vase and Stones” (1996). Dozens of rocks, a vase, and an oval container sit on a large open box in front of a wall, which is variegated by light and shadow. The clarity is brilliant, and some will grossly mistake this for a painted photograph.

In actuality, “Vase and Stones” is highly stylized in that it presents what the artist wants the viewer to see and how she wants him to see it. By sitting slightly over the edge of the box, the oval container in the lower left pulls the viewer into the composition. The composition then guides the viewer in a circular motion through the painting: from the oval container, to the bag of stones, to the glass vase, to the cache of polished stones on the right, and, finally, back to the oval container by hopping from individual stone to individual stone. The light from the lower left casts a shadow from the direction of the oval container, rolls over the valleys of the cloth bag, and passes through the glass vase to the back wall. “Vase and Stones” is the work of an artist who clearly believes that consciousness is active and efficacious.

The deliberate circular motion and controlled lighting scheme enable Miss Mann to contrast the smooth textures of the open box’s lacquered surface, polished stones, and glass vase with the rough textures of the cloth bag and unpolished stones. By doing this, she enables the viewer easily to differentiate the qualities of one object from another, thereby providing greater clarity and understanding as to the precise nature of each object.

Because of this, one can grasp a fundamental value of good still-life paintings: epistemological joy-a moment of love for consciousness’ relationship to concretes; a relationship that is highly selective, ordered, essentialized-and purposeful; a relationship full of clarity, vivid color, subtlety, and brilliant light; a relationship that can produce an intense emotional response within the viewer that says, to paraphrase Ayn Rand: “These are concretes as I see them!”

Experiencing epistemological joy when looking at art is much like experiencing metaphysical joy, but instead of being based on one’s sense of life, epistemological joy stems from one’s psycho-epistemological sense of life.

Linda Mann always selects those objects that are fine, luxurious, and tantalizing, and they are galvanized by her delight in selectivity, challenging compositions, and technical mastery. To see and order prints of her paintings for yourself, visit her website.

1 Ayn Rand, “Art and Sense of Life,” The Romantic Manifesto (New American Library, New York, 1975), p. 42.