What Art Does
In the last lecture, we identified that man's conceptual nature requires that he find a way of better grasping his high level abstractions. His views of life, the world, and his role in it, are of particular importance. Art has the ability to satisfy this need by projecting a view of the world into a concrete, integrated vision that we can grasp clearly and directly.
The specific function art performs is bringing complex abstractions down to a more perceptual level. By making the experience of the abstraction more immediate and clear, you get a stronger grasp of it. You can see what the abstraction means in very concrete terms.
In The Fountainhead, Rand was able to convey the abstract concept of independent judgment. Howard Roark embodied the idea of thinking for himself. In fact, he seemed to be immune to the opinions and expectations of others. He didn't think to care about what other people thought, and so kept a focus on his own values and reality. If you wanted to understand the concept of independent judgment, Howard Roark is the purest embodiment.
Imagine reading an essay on the topic instead. It wouldn't be difficult to explain the idea. Think for yourself, and don't let the fact that other people believe something affect your own judgment. The fact that they think or believe something is not in itself reason to accept it as true. It's a very simple idea. But putting it into practice, or even seeing the full implications of it is difficult, is more difficult. How do you approach business? How do you interact with friends? How do you deal with people who don't like you? How do you deal with people who themselves are swayed by second-hand values?
With Howard Roark clear in your head, it's easy. He's so concrete, you get a strong sense of what he's like. He takes all of these abstract ideas and integrates them into a concrete from. Even though he represents a fairly abstract idea, his portrayal makes it very tangible. You can imagine his character in a situation and see how he might act or react. You can simply ask "Would Howard Roark do something like this?".
And that's the power of art. It can take these complex abstractions and connect them more to reality. But it does more than just providing a concrete example of an abstract idea. It can actually presents a concrete example that embodies the abstraction.
Embodying the abstraction means providing an example that displays vividly the essential characteristics of the concept. The art has to put emphasis on the defining attributes of the concept. It can do this in a number of ways. It can integrate the rest of the artwork around those traits. It can provide a contrast that highlights the characteristics. For instance, by contrasting Peter Keating with Howard Roark, Roark's own qualities are brought into clear focus. Without the contrast, he'd be an interesting character, but with it his attributes are magnified.
This all revolves around the theme of tying concepts more closely to reality, so we can grasp them better, use them with ease, and even build upon them. This is an incredibly important human need. To deal successfully with the world, we need to better integrate our ideas and use complex abstractions to focus on important facets of reality. Art magnifies the power of these abstractions, allowing us to continue to grow and improve our understanding of the world, and consequently improve how we live our own lives.