By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man’s fundamental view of himself and existence. Out of the countless number of concretes—of single, disorganized and (seemingly)contradictory attributes, actions and entities—an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction. [RM, 19–20]
Armed with this corrosive principle, Rand could invent all kinds of pretexts for disliking a given work of art -- pretexts which carry her far beyond her invidious distinction between malevolent and benevolent senses of life. Consider, as one example, Rand's remarks about a painting of a beautiful woman with a cold sore:
If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it. But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values—and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.)
Another example involves Rembrandt's painting of a side of beef:
That particular painting may be taken as a symbol of everything I am opposed to in art and in literature. At the age of seven, I could not understand why anyone would wish to paint or to admire pictures of dead fish, garbage cans or fat peasant women with triple chins. Today, I understand the psychological causes of such esthetic phenomena—and the more I understand, the more I oppose them.
Rand's "psychological causes" are mere rationalizations. Rand was far too ignorant about human nature, psychology and art to present any plausible insights on why other people might enjoy a work of art she deplored. Per usual with Rand, she merely rationalizes her own private tastes and preferences, which she regarded, with her typical hyper-narcisism, as the infallible criterion of the good, the beautiful, and the true. But what evidence did Rand ever present that paintings of cold sores constitute a "corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man," or that people who admire such art are some sort of moral lepers? Why must a painting of a side of beef, or a dead fish, or fat peasant woman be regarded as corrupt or malevolent or obscene? Such paintings may have seemed so to Rand, but on what grounds did she assume that everyone must share her rather limited and excessively opinionated aesthetic reactions? What if the purpose of such art is to find beauty in simple things? What if the corruption existed, not in those who respond to Rembrandt's side of beef, but in Rand herself and her exceedingly narrow aesthetic tastes and her mania for condemning people with different views and tastes from herself?
Rand tended to admire only that art which projected a vision of man and existence she shared. Given that Rand's own view of man was, in many respects, false (a product, not of careful, scientific fact finding and experiment, but of her own wishful thinking), her attempts to use her own aesthetic judgments as a means of judging the psychology of (1) the artist, (2) other people's aesthetic reactions, should be taken with the utmost suspicion. Rand's aesthetic psychologizing is egotistic and malicious. It doesn't take into account that other people may have very different aesthetic values from herself, and may be capable of aesthetic appreciations which go well beyond Rand's excessively narrow ken. Rand, for example, seems to have experienced little if any appreciation for beauty of form. Indeed, she had no formal theory of beauty whatsoever, and never wrote or said anything substantial on the subject; all of which which seems a huge oversight for a theoretician of aesthetics.
There may be any number of reasons why someone may enjoy an artistic reproduction of a side of beef that has nothing to do with Rand's malicious psychologizing. There may be beauty in the colors, the shape, and the form of the beef, and in the entire composition. There is, after all, such a thing as art for art's sake, beauty for the sake of beauty. While there is nothing wrong in disliking such art, Rand does go beyond the pale of common decency and good manners when she begins judging (and, in this instance, morally judging) those who favor such art. Rand's emphasis on selectivity in art merely serves to encourage a deplorable tendency to over-interepret aesthetic works, rather than just enjoying them for what they are. Works of art do not have to be seen as complicated exemplifications of metaphysical value judgments. They may be nothing more than the expression of form and beauty. Rembrandt's side of beef does not have to be seen as corrupt or viscious attack on values; it may be little more than an attempt to demonstrate how something as seemingly insignificant as a side of beef may be shot through with subtle beauty.