Her favorite argument ad hominem on behalf of her aesthetic tastes (and against those contrary to her own) involves her idea of the "sense of life." When Rand sought to rationalize her her various like and dislikes in the aesthetic realm, she most often reached for her sense of life construct. She had a mania for using it in a rather sweeping way against entire the aesthetic productions of specific composers, artistics, and writers. For example, in one of her more infamous ex cathedra declarations, she claimed that Beethoven's music was "malevolent." Not, mind you, for any specific works, but (at least by implication) for Beethoven's entire ouvre, including the "Ode to Joy" setting in the 9th symphony. To be sure, it's absurd to regard any of Beethoven's ouvre as "malevolent," and Rand's sweeping assessment demonstrates, if anything, the Dunning–Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which clueless people adopt conclusions about things they are incapable of understanding. The bottom line is that Rand didn't like Beethoven because she didn't understand Beethoven, and she resented that those who appreciated what was beyond her ken. Hence the canard about "malevolence."
But Rand was not content to disparage artists and composers she did not care for or understand as malevolent, she also had to go after those who dared to understand and appreciate what she could not. Here's how she rationalized it:
Although Rand denies that a sense of life can be used as a "valid" criterion of aesthetic merit, this does not prevent her from using it in ad hominem attacks against art she regarded with contempt. It was not on aesthetic grounds that Rand disliked Beethoven's music, but for purely emotional reasons. Now it is important to understand that, while Rand may have regarded emotions in general with a suspicion that sometimes borders on paranoia, she did not experience that same level of distrust in regards her own emotions. Since her emotions were based on "correct" premises, they were regarded as always being entirely appropriate. And so, if Rand failed to respond emotionally to a work of art (or even worse, responded negatively), then there had to be something wrong with that work of art, irrespective of its aesthetic merits. And if someone experienced a different emotional assessment to a work of art, that demonstrated, by implication at least, that this individual's emotions were not based on "correct" premises -- that there was, in short, something seriously wrong with that person.
It is the artist’s sense of life that controls and integrates his work, directing the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. It is the viewer’s or reader’s sense of life that responds to a work of art by a complex, yet automatic reaction of acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation.
This does not mean that a sense of life is a valid criterion of esthetic merit, either for the artist or the viewer. A sense of life is not infallible. But a sense of life is the source of art, the psychological mechanism which enables man to create a realm such as art.
The emotion involved in art is not an emotion in the ordinary meaning of the term. It is experienced more as a “sense” or a “feel,” but it has two characteristics pertaining to emotions: it is automatically immediate and it has an intense, profoundly personal (yet undefined) value-meaning to the individual experiencing it. The value involved is life, and the words naming the emotion are: “This is what life means to me.”
Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: “This is life as I see it.” The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements, is: “This is (or is not) life as I see it.”
If a person enjoys so-called "malevolent" art, this implies they have a "malevolent" sense of life. What might that be? In my next post, I'll examine that strange conception.