The subject of an art work expresses a view of man’s existence, while the style expresses a view of man’s consciousness. The subject reveals an artist’s metaphysics, the style reveals his psycho-epistemology . . . .With this weapon in her aesthetic arsenal, Rand can make some startling pronouncements about various styles of painting:
An artist’s style is the product of his own psycho-epistemology—and, by implication, a projection of his view of man’s consciousness, of its efficacy or impotence, of its proper method and level of functioning.
Predominantly (though not exclusively), a man whose normal mental state is a state of full focus, will create and respond to a style of radiant clarity and ruthless precision—a style that projects sharp outlines, cleanliness, purpose, an intransigent commitment to full awareness and clear-cut identity—a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A is A, where everything is open to man’s consciousness and demands its constant functioning.
A man who is moved by the fog of his feelings and spends most of his time out of focus will create and respond to a style of blurred, "mysterious" murk, where outlines dissolve and entities flow into one another, where words connote anything and denote nothing, where colors float without objects, and objects float without weight—a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A can be any non-A one chooses, where nothing can be known with certainty and nothing much is demanded of one’s consciousness.
Style is the most complex element of art, the most revealing and, often, the most baffling psychologically. The terrible inner conflicts from which artists suffer as much as (or, perhaps, more than) other men are magnified in their work. As an example: Salvador Dali, whose style projects the luminous clarity of a rational psycho-epistemology, while most (though not all) of his subjects project an irrational and revoltingly evil metaphysics. A similar, but less offensive, conflict may be seen in the paintings of Vermeer, who combines a brilliant clarity of style with the bleak metaphysics of Naturalism. At the other extreme of the stylistic continuum, observe the deliberate blurring and visual distortions of the so-called "painterly" school, from Rembrandt on down—down to the rebellion against consciousness, expressed by a phenomenon such as Cubism which seeks specifically to disintegrate man’s consciousness by painting objects as man does not perceive them (from several perspectives at once).
Much of the psychological bafflement Rand confesses to arises out of her definition of art. It's from Rand's own insistence that art is a "selective recreation of reality" that so many of her invidious conclusions about art, particularly modern art, arise. After all, on what basis does Rand justify her conclusion that individuals who respond to "blurred mysterious murk" (presumably this is Impressionist and non-representional art) spend most of their time "out of focus." What evidence does she have to support so implausible a contention?
I suspect that one of the main draws of Rand's aesthetics is that it provides an uncompromising condemnation of "modern" art. Such modernism, Rand implies, is a "rebellion against consciousness." Cubism, in particular, "seeks specifically to disintegrate man's consciousness by painting objects as man does not perceive them." Oh really? How does Rand know such a thing? Using the same logic, couldn't something very similar be said about emoticons and smilies? or stick figure illustrations? or any graphical representation that isn't absolutley photographic in its representation? While there is absolutely nothing wrong in deploring modern art, if one wishes to criticize it, one must do better than this.