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Conversations With Raymond

Art And Culture

I thought I heard a motorcycle and it sounded like it stopped just outside. In a few minutes Julie ushered Christy into the kitchen. She was beaming as usual.

"Ray's running a little late," she said while removing her leather jacket and draping on the back of one of the chairs. "He said to apologize for him, but I won't," she laughed while giving me her customary hug.

"Love your leather," I said. "What's your ride?"

"Harley Hugger 1200. I've had it customized a bit. Do you ride?" She asked.

"I did for years, and still would except for some physical problems. Is Ray coming on his bike?"

"He is!" she said enthusiastically. "We're going riding later. Too bad you don't still ride. It would be wonderful having you with us."

"Yes it would, at least for me. I'm not sure how wonderful Ray would think it was. Nice that you two have that in common though."

We could hear Ray roaring up to the curb while we were talking, and in a couple of minutes he showed up in the kitchen.

"Just throw your jacket over mine," Christy said. Ray did and gave her a kiss.

"Sorry I'm late, Regi," Ray said.

"Actually you're not," I said. "Julie hasn't even set the table yet."

"Well I am now," Julie said, bringing over dishes and silverware.

"How are you, Julie?" Ray asked.

"Not bad for a slave," she said. "And how are you two?"

"What do you mean, a slave?" I asked, sounding as indignant as I could.

"Oh, I'm not complaining, Mr. Firehammer. You're a very kind master."

"Well I won't be if you don't stop talking and finish serving lunch."

"Right away, mas..."

"Careful!" I interrupted.

I think she made some kind of gesture or face behind my back because both she and Christy giggled, and Ray was grinning too.

Lunch was just sandwiches, including Ray's favorite, cream cheese and olive. Christy said they sounded gross.

"Did you discuss our little question about art and culture?" I asked, addressing both of them.

"Yes we did," they both said.

"What was your conclusion?" I asked.

[In case you've forgotten what the question was, Ray had said art was a luxury, because it was not necessary, so was not important. Christy pointed out that lots of things that aren't necessary were important like indoor plumbing, central heating, electricity. People could and did live without them, but they were certainly important for those who had them. Having decided that nothing was intrinsically important, only important to someone for some purpose or end, Ray agreed that art was at least important to artists because it was their profession. When I pointed out most artists thought art had a more significant importance related to civilized culture, Ray said flatly, "They're wrong!" I said, "You're right," and that shocked Christy, who said, "But that is exactly what I meant last time, when I said art is a significant part of civilization. I meant a civilized culture." That's the question Christy and Ray had agreed to discuss themselves so we could discuss their conclusion about whether or not art was important to a civilized culture.]

Christy looked at Ray. He nodded a, "you begin," look at her.

"We didn't exactly come to an agreement," she started. "We did agree that if art is important in a civilized culture it is not for any of the reasons usually given by art experts and sociologists. I do agree with Ray that art is not necessary, even in advanced societies like those in Europe and America. It is a luxury. One can live without art, even in an advanced society.

"By art I mean only what is usually called classical art: the music, paintings, sculpture, dance, poetry, novels, and music, especially music. That is all I can enjoy as art, but I could live without it. We all could. Art's absence would not affect our health, our ability to work and produce, or anyone's moral character.

By art's absence I don't mean the absence of all music, painting, novels, and dance, because I do not regard most of those as art.

"I think Ray and I agreed on this much." Ray nodded.

"I'll let Ray explain how he disagrees with me. The rest is just my opinion. Art is a luxury, but a thing is not unimportant just because it is a luxury. Jewelry, expensive cars, and yachts are luxuries, but jewelry, expensive cars, and yachts are certainly not unimportant. I think art, real art, is important in the same way as other luxuries.

"This is where I think everyone gets the importance of art backward. Poor people in poor backward nations do not have luxuries. Their culture and incomes preclude jewelry, expensive cars, and yachts. These kinds of luxuries are only found in advanced modern prosperous cultures and societies. I think the importance of art to civilization and culture is not as a cause of civilization, but as a result of civilization, because it is only in a civilized culture that true art can be produced and it is only in a civilized culture there will be the kind of people who can appreciate true art."

She stopped. I waited a moment then looked at Ray.

"You don't agree with her?" I asked.

"Actually I agree with almost everything, and she said it better than I could have." His admiration for Christy was obvious.

"And I really like her point about what she calls arts importance to civilization. It takes a civilized society to make art possible, but art cannot produce civilization. You cannot make people more civilized or cultured by exposing them to art, which seems to be what government and the art snobs try to promote.

"My difference with Christy, if it really is a difference, is mostly a personal one. Except for classical music, I really have no great love for any other kind of classical art. That is the real difference if there is one. Art is just not important to me. If it were all gone tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it. I also think that is what makes art important if it ever is. It is totally subjective. It will be important to those who can and do appreciate it and good for them if they do. Beyond that, art has no importance at all."

I looked at Christy. "Any comment."

"Not really," she said. "It's exactly how our discussion went. I don't think we really disagree. Art is only important to individuals, and has no importance beyond that except in some art officionados' minds, and it's only importance to culture, is not actually to the culture itself, except in the way all luxuries affect a society's economy... the significance of art is as an indicator, just like any other luxury... it means the society is wealthy and cultured enough to produce and appreciate those luxuries."

"So," I said. "When are you going to write the book?"

"What book?" they both asked.

"Art Snobbery and the True Significance of Art," I said. I think you have both reached exactly the right conclusions about art. But I'm a little surprised by you, Ray."

"Why? What did I do?" he said a little wide-eyed.

"Oh, I'm not accusing you of anything. I mean I'm glad to see you thinking for yourself, and doing it so well. But that is not what surprised me. Your view on art is completely different from your favorite philosopher's view."

Ray didn't say anything. He just looked at me with that expectant expression that says, "go on...."

"Your Ayn Rand thought art was very important, both to individuals and to society or culture. I'm sure you've read the Romantic Manifesto."

"I have," he said. "There were some things in it that I liked very much, such as her description of a civilized society."

"I read it too," Christy said. "It was the least impressive of her books for me. It was actually very disappointing. It is supposed be a book on aesthetics, which she actually never addresses. It is only about art."

"Christy, you are the only other person I know who has made that observation, and you are absolutely right," I said.

Lunch had been over for a while, and I knew both Ray and Christy must be itching to get going on their ride, though I admit they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Julie had left some crackers and cheese which Ray nibbled on while we talked, which may be why he did not seem to be in a big hurry.

"If you're going for that ride, you better get going," said.

"Thank you for lunch," Christy said with a little hug. "I just love these visits," she said, grinning.

"Yes, thanks, Regi." Ray said.

"OK OK," I said. "I'll give you a call later in the week and we'll get together sometime next week," I promised.

"Buy Regi!" they both said and were out the door. I heard them roar away on their Harley's, and felt a little nostalgic twinge.