What Art Is:
The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand

by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi


Jacques Barzun

America's most eminent cultural historian, Jacques Barzun capped his long career with the critically acclaimed best-seller From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (2000).

"Yours is the kind of work that makes its way slowly but lasts long, both because its subject is perennial and because of the breadth and depth of your treatment." [Letter to the authors, 5 October 2001]
". . . I've not read [Ayn Rand's] work, though I know a good deal about one aspect of it. Her theory of art has been the subject of a large and very interesting and thorough book by Louis Torres [and Michelle Marder Kamhi]. . . . I was privileged to see some advance pages of that and finally read the whole book . . . and so I not only remedied my ignorance of the work of Ayn Rand but I admire a great part (not all) of her theory of art." [Interview, Book TV (C-SPAN 2): "In Depth: Jacques Barzun (May 6, 2001)." Featuring noted figures in American culture, "In Depth" is Book TV's "flagship interview program." The above remarks were in response to a question from a viewer (during the last half hour of the three-hour program) about Barzun's opinion of Ayn Rand's novels.]
"I have reread a large part of your What Art Is and . . . particularly admire your treatment of music, which I find parallels my own thought on a number of points. And the views in which we concur need to be disseminated, because the confusion that reigns is dense and desperately repetitive in itself and its offshoots." [Letter to the authors, 29 November 2000. For Jacques Barzun's thoughts on music, see Berlioz and the Romantic Century and "Is Music Unspeakable?" The American Scholar, Spring 1996, among other works.]
"At last I have found enough uninterrupted time to read What Art Is from end to end, and I report my enthusiastic appreciation and enjoyment. You have done a splendid piece of work--research, reflection, and writing are worthy of all praise. . . . Your scholarly treatment of modern art, your Appendices, your Notes are full of facts, comparisons and judgments that come to grips suggestively with the elusive double topic, Art and the arts. . . . As I see it, you and Rand and I all repudiate art that is not made but found, or simply assembled, or is a mere arrangement of lines and colors [abstract art]. When I look at a Rothko, I may admire the subtle gradation of colors and the shimmering, but I feel 'This isn't enough.'. . . My hearty congratulations on an admirable book." [Letter to the authors, 6 August 2000]
[Comment on the serialized monograph (in Aristos, 1991-92) by Torres and Kamhi on which What Art Is was based:]
"Excellent in two points of view--one, it is so detailed that I feel confident of its fairness to the text; and two, I admire the analytic skill with which merits and demerits are laid out. The reader has a chance to weigh their application, instead of reading only conclusions and judgments."
[Letter to the authors, 11 October 1991]

[updated: 11/07]

Randall R. Dipert

C. S. Peirce Professor of American Philosophy, SUNY Buffalo, and author of Artifacts, Art Works, and Agency

"This is one of the most interesting, provocative, and well-written books on aesthetics that I know. While fully accessible to the general reader, What Art Is should be of great interest to specialists as well. Ayn Rand's largely unknown writings on art--especially as interpreted, released from dogma, and smoothed out by Torres and Kamhi--are remarkably refined. Moreover, her ideas are positively therapeutic after a century of artistic floundering and aesthetic quibbling. Anyone interested in aesthetics, in the purpose of art, or in the troubling issues posed by modernism and postmodernism should read this book."
[See also authors' response to Randall Dipert's review of What Art Is in Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.]

Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies and author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

"Torres and Kamhi effectively situate Rand's long-neglected esthetic theory in the wider history of ideas. They not only illuminate her significant contribution to an understanding of the nature of art; they also apply her ideas to a trenchant critique of the twentieth century's 'advanced art.' Their exposure of the invalidity of abstract art is itself worth the price of admission."

Stephen Cox

Professor of Literature and Director of the Humanities Program, University of California, San Diego

"Rand's aesthetic theory merits careful study and thoughtful criticism, which Torres and Kamhi provide. Their scholarship is sound, their presentation is clear, and their judgment is refreshingly free from the biases that Rand's supporters and detractors alike tend to bring to considerations of her work."

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