Performing Arts

Let us turn now to the performing arts (acting, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing).

In these arts, the medium employed is the person of the artist. His task is not to re-create reality, but to implement the re-creation made by one of the primary arts.

This does not mean that the performing arts are secondary in esthetic value or importance, but only that they are an extension of and dependent on the primary arts. Nor does it mean that performers are mere “interpreters”: on the higher levels of his art, a performer contributes a creative element which the primary work could not convey by itself; he becomes a partner, almost a co-creator—if and when he is guided by the principle that he is the means to the end set by the work.

The basic principles which apply to all the other arts, apply to the performing artist as well, particularly stylization, i.e., selectivity: the choice and emphasis of essentials, the structuring of the progressive steps of a performance which lead to an ultimately meaningful sum. The performing artist’s own metaphysical value-judgments are called upon to create and apply the kind of technique his performance requires. For instance, an actor’s view of human grandeur or baseness or courage or timidity will determine how he projects these qualities on the stage. A work intended to be performed leaves a wide latitude of creative choice to the artist who will perform it. In an almost literal sense, he has to embody the soul created by the author of the work; a special kind of creativeness is required to bring that soul into full physical reality.

When the performance and the work (literary or musical) are perfectly integrated in meaning, style and intention, the result is a magnificent esthetic achievement and an unforgettable experience for the audience.

The psycho-epistemological role of the performing arts—their relationship to man’s cognitive faculty—lies in the full concretization of the metaphysical abstractions projected by a work of the primary arts. The distinction of the performing arts lies in their immediacy—in the fact that they translate a work of art into existential action, into a concrete event open to direct awareness.

Music and/or literature are the base of the performing arts and of the large-scale combinations of all the arts, such as opera or motion pictures. The base, in this context, means that primary art which provides the metaphysical element and enables the performance to become a concretization of an abstract view of man.

Without this base, a performance may be entertaining, in such fields as vaudeville or the circus, but it has nothing to do with art. The performance of an aerialist, for instance, demands an enormous physical skill—greater, perhaps, and harder to acquire than the skill demanded of a ballet dancer—but what it offers is merely an exhibition of that skill, with no further meaning, i.e., a concrete, not a concretization of anything.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.