What does philosophy have to do with music and art?

By Rebecca Day

During a series of lectures on her style of fiction writing, Ayn Rand concluded, “Every writer is a moral philosopher.” I discovered this passage as part of that lecture series only recently in a book published posthumously, The Art of Fiction, a Guide for Writers and Readers.  If I’d read it a decade ago, my life might have taken a very different path. 

As a 17 year old college student fresh out of a rigorous arts high school, my dream of making it in the mainstream music industry occupied the hallways of my brain far more than freshman year math and computer science classes did.

I longed to spend my time creating art and writing songs that would be picked up by a major label. I’d be whisked away to Nashville or LA where I would headline global tours and appear in commercials featuring America’s most cherished soft drink products.

I had it all figured out, and the only thing stopping me was a full ride scholarship to the Florida college of my choice.

My most cherished moments during college years were spent blaring the stereo in my Mustang as loud as it would go as I made my way to campus to turn in a paper on weather systems or cloud structures, or to sit through another math class full of formulas I’d never remember.

During my sophomore year, an Intro to Philosophy class piqued my interest, and suddenly I found myself nose in text book, rather than ordering my weekly cheese pizza special and breaking out my acoustic guitar.

I FIND MY CALLING–BRIEFLY

I could choose any major I wished to pursue—Business, Liberal Arts, Physical Therapy (that last one was the quickest to not pan out). Yet the passion I felt as I read the work of Aristotle, and at the rate my brain turned over age-old questions and history, reality and fear led me to finally put a name to the very thing that made me pick up a pen in the first place and start writing poems when I was four. Philosopher: a lover of wisdom. A seeker of truth.

Like a low pressure system forming off the gulf, readying itself to make its presence known over the coast with whipping winds and crashing waves, my calling had found me.

It was decided. I would be a Philosophy Major.

While I was inwardly thrilled to have found my collegiate path, my family did not present the same amount of jubilation. Though I come from a highly artistic family, as any well-meaning parents would do, they encouraged me to pursue a major which equaled a high probability of both post-grad hiring, and steady salary. While academic counselors pushed me away from a Business degree because of my background in the arts, not sciences, my family pushed me toward degrees such as Marketing (after all, that’s what Garth Brooks majored in) and Advertising.

Even before my introduction to philosophy class was complete, I was already being thrust into the push and pull of philosophical differences and opinions, and I didn’t even realize it.

Upon the realization that my majoring in philosophy would possibly end like a scene out of a film featuring parents wondering where they went wrong, I disavowed my newfound life as a budding philosopher just as quickly as I had embraced it.

FOCUSING ON MUSIC

After completing my Associate in Arts degree, and a brief stint as an Advertising Major (we’re talking the briefest ever, twenty-four hours to be exact), I called it quits on my collegiate voyage and finally received my parents’ blessing to focus on music full time.

Years later, as I made my way back through classic novels such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston as a personal project, I rediscovered Ayn Rand. Up until that point, the time I’d devoted to studying Rand was a short week during my freshman year of high school when her novella, Anthem, was assigned to us to read as part of a bigger lesson on the various points of view authors adopt for fiction.

Anthem was my top pick among the books I read my freshman year, but once again, my acoustic guitar called, and for several years, I tabled her work, continuing to not understand or realize how much the meat of her philosophy affected my life.

Upon my second reading of Anthem, I realized her book wasn’t just another dystopian love story full of futuristic, big-brother-like, eerie scenarios. It was a palpable introduction to her philosophy of Objectivism.

PHILOSOPHY AND MUSIC MERGE

My quickened heartbeat, eyes that drank in sentences and paragraphs as fast as possible, the waves in my mind lapping and thrashing—it was the same feeling I remembered from college when I first read Aristotle. The mind and body hummed internally in unison beneath my skin peppered with goosebumps and muscles awakening with answers led to my second philosophical epiphany.

Before I ever looked into who Ayn Rand’s early philosophical influences were, I knew Aristotle had to have been a part of the repertoire. His thinking was based on logic and reason, the empirical process. In an alternate world if Ayn Rand was Tom Brady, Aristotle would have been her Bill Belichick.

Experiencing the same physical and mental reactions while reading both Aristotle and Rand several years apart was no coincidence.

I didn’t just want to study philosophy, recite quotes from all of the great thinkers, or write essays on Plato, or Kant, or the Stoics.

I didn’t just want a degree in philosophy from some college. I wanted a philosophical revolution.

And through reading the works of Ayn Rand, books on Aristotle and the Renaissance, and the history of the philosophy of the middle-ages, the West, ancient Ireland and more, I have participated in a revolution. I embarked on my own renaissance.

Movies make it seem like personal discovery is dramatic, with a symphony playing in the background, and the sun shining behind you during golden hour in the summer.

Filmmakers almost never document a young woman or man staying up until 2 in the morning, The Fountainhead in hand, realizing Howard Roark had been their spirit animal their whole life, they just didn’t know it up until that point.

Realizing  I wasn’t just interested in philosophy, but more specifically (and importantly) objective, reasoned, rational philosophy, acted as a reset button of sorts on my life. CTRL + ALT + DEL had been engaged.

Suddenly the themes, stories and lyrical choices in my writing, from songs to poems, to the essay that helped secure funding for college, made perfect sense. I wasn’t just some rebellious, difficult, too-serious-a-girl individual, I was an objectivist dammit.

I found the element of hope to be my savior. I clung to my free will tightly like a mother to a newborn. I demanded the truth as a bird demands flight. My mind was my best friend; books my best teachers.

And only until I submerged myself in the works of Rand was I finally able to put these concretes into a sound abstraction. Almost abruptly, but with smooth transition, as a hurricane suddenly appears on the radar, then tracks a path to its destination, every action, every thought, and every piece of art I created was executed with actionable purpose and meaning.

Though I had begun my songwriting journey with a touch of starry-eyed idealism, Rand’s philosophy gave me the tools to navigate the choppy waters of reality.

THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC

I have always been a planner, so I figured if I planned out my career as a musician, it would all fall into place, just as my educational career had.

Ultimately though, I realized that while I can accomplish everything on my business plan year in and year out—play hundreds of shows, appear on TV and in interviews, receive print media coverage, sell music and gain supporters, the idealized path of the rock star is something of a Pandora’s Box for me.

I met early on with with Nashville industry professionals who gave me a literal formula to write in if I wanted to make it in the country music scene. Other industry personnel told me to tone down my writing and not make waves. It became obvious I’d have to change who I am as a person. I’d have to generate copies of the same product packaged in slightly different ways.  I knew my path to picturesque stardom was just that, a picture. The reality was that I’d probably never be allowed into that exclusive club if I wasn’t willing to compromise myself as both a person and an artist.

Though I understood the content of the music business is built on emotion, I didn’t want to use my instrument to pen a love letter. I wanted to use it to pen a historic declaration.

Rand talks about the state of art in her series of lectures on writing fiction:

“They want to make the practice of artistic creation available to anyone (regardless of ability), so that they can form their own little caste of specialists and pronounce, subjectively, what is and is not art. Then they can go around fooling each other and those who wish to support them.”

I have seen this many times in the industry. While the internet and technology have made both the industry and supporters of it highly accessible, gatekeepers who still control the business and industry have created a type of caste system and they subjectively say what is and isn’t music.  Then they begin the process of releasing that music to the public. The writers of the songs, though the producers of the content, are often at the bottom of the caste system. The artists who sing and perform the songs are a notch higher. While they might not be singing about what they truly believe or are passionate about, at least the company or label provides them with proper payment and incentive. At the highest notch on the totem pole are the executives who generate the most profit from the music they select and push.

In my opinion the audience sits atop the totem pole. In an enlightened society, no matter how many times an insider tells a listener a song is good, if it’s not, the listener probably won’t buy it or play it.

GENRES AND CONSUMERS

While in today’s society there is pushback from segments of music consumers who boycott radio, voice their disdain on social media, and find their new favorite artist in fringe genres such has Americana, Alt-Country, Ameripolitan and more, a majority-amount of consumers still dial in their favorite FM stations, stream mainstream songs on their devices, and tune in religiously to televised awards ceremonies.

While the renaissance period in history gave light to individuals of invention, reasoned philosophy, and romantic art, the dark ages gave rise to mysticism, a blockade of enlightened art, and a caste system built on predetermination. One doesn’t have to be an expert on today’s music industry to see the stark difference between the pushing forward of renaissance and the pull-back of the dark ages.

Social media, the internet and technology have allowed little known artists with quality music and a unique message to create movements. However, the high amount of escapism coupled with a lack of quality content, pushed by gatekeepers who keep a rigid modernized caste system in place, compete with the bustling independent sector of the industry every day.

The contrast is a classic Fountainhead scenario. The old guard of the industry embodies the character of Ellsworth Toohey—presidents of exclusive associations who praise nonobjective art and water down the craft with subjectivity. The independent sector houses the Howard Roarks of the business. While we seem crazy to turn down opportunity that doesn’t align with our vision of authenticity and purposeful originality, I think we are really the sanest artists of all.

Art is the product of the creator’s philosophy. Art that leaves behind a legacy stems from creators who are soundest in their philosophy. However, the art which has sparked renaissance, revolution, and movements of individuals is the declaration of Romantic Realism put into creative motion.

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is the epitome of this creative motion.

PERSONAL APPROACH TO CREATIVITY

While I’ll likely not pen an equivalent to Atlas Shrugged, as a moral philosopher I will always treat each new song, poem, novel or writing piece with the utmost objective thought, with emotion led by reason, and with hope as my eternal plot climax.

I follow this paradigm because I love creating. And as Rand states in The Romantic Manifesto, “Love is the expression of philosophy.”

In today’s entertainment industry and world of arts, most do not realize the absolute importance of art and philosophy in unison. Simply put, one can not properly and expertly function without the other.

Rand declares at the end of the first chapter in The Romantic Manifesto:

“The reason why art has such a profoundly personal significance for men is that art confirms or denies the efficacy of a man’s consciousness, according to whether an art work supports or negates his own fundamental view of reality.”

Such is the meaning and power of a medium which today is predominantly in the hands of practitioners who boastfully offer, as their credentials, the fact that they do not know what they are doing.

Let us take them at their word: they don’t. We do.”

The marriage of art and philosophy is perversely neglected in today’s society, most not respecting the sanctity of two partners who are bound together in aesthetics by natural law. A creator can not be satisfied making art without an objective philosophy and a firm grip of reality. This is one of the reasons so many suffer incessantly, numb by use of vices, and fail at relationships.

While they don’t grasp their important role as ‘moral philosopher,’ through Aristotle, Howard Roark, Equality 7-2521, Objectivism, and Ayn Rand, I now realize my lifelong love affair with art  has been a love affair solidifying my life’s philosophy.

A daily vow to a reasoned mind helps me properly navigate the chaotic aisles of the arts. From the commitment I have made as objective thinker, to the unending love I have declared for rationality, and through reason, hope and romanticism I now dedicate myself to like a newlywed to her groom, after misguided ideas about degrees, idealized images of stardom, and a slow discovery of the absolute importance of philosophy, I can now finally say,  I do.

[Featured photo of Rebecca Day by Joel Molotzak Photography]

(September 5, 2018)

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