Matt De Santi: Romantic art should return

Matt De Santi

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Art is dead in our society, and has been dead for several generations. Only on rare occasions do we receive glimpses of true creativity and free expression. However, by and large, our canons of art are devoid of substance.

Let me begin with a definition for art. To use the words of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand,Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” What she is saying is that an artist represents his fundamental philosophical premises through the work that he produces. So, if a man views life on earth as desolate and meaningless, his artwork will express desolation and meaninglessness.  

The reason why current art in our society (or at least mainstream canons of art) is unpleasant is that it is mostly naturalistic. Naturalism is one of the most prolific schools of art, and unfortunately it is currently the most pervasive. The opposite of naturalism is romanticism. To put it as plainly and quickly as possible, naturalism is the school of art that demands an artist only portray what is, that man’s ultimate fate is determined by outside forces and is generally nihilistic, while romantic artists portray what they think could or should be, that man’s ultimate fate is determined by his volition, and is generally heroic.

Critics of romanticism often pedantically complain that it doesn’t accurately portray reality. That nobody can be as heroic, no conflict can be as dramatic, no life can be as interesting as romantic artists portray. Generally our culture rejects romantic art as a quaint phenomenon of a bygone era. I believe that it is time naturalism steps down and romanticism revives itself in society.

Art that reflects real life is pointless.

If one wishes to experience the world as it is, they had better put down books, look away from paintings, switch off their music players and step out of their front doors. The act of creating fiction is not supposed to be an act of journalism. This is why the word and concept of fiction exists at all.

Naturalism can’t even be enacted completely, as a novel, play or painting is already showing something that doesn’t exist in real life. Real people don’t have the events of their lives narrated or randomly break into a musical number before going about the rest of their day. Art isn’t the world, it is the re-creation of the world that is meant to portray a certain message or theme.

Romanticism gives an artist imagination as the means for creation, not commanding them to be pseudo-journalists. It gives the artist unlimited potential vehicles for expression, be it dramas set in historical periods or adventures in a dystopian future. However this doesn’t mean that romanticism doesn’t conform to objective artistic standards or expectations, like so called “non-objective art.”

I encourage others to seek out romanticism in all forms because just as a work of art expresses the values of the artist, so does the consumer of art reinforce or discover new philosophical values. Romantic art promotes creativity for both creator and consumer and hopefully come back to our society.

What do you think?