For me, one of the greatest creations by a visual artist, in all of history, is the statue ''la Pieta,'' by Michaelangelo.
The statue - now located inside St. Peter's Basilica, inside the Vatican - shows the Virgin Mary, holding in her lap the dead body of her crucified son. It is a work of astonishing beauty, and has inspired faith and feeling in a great many people, over many centuries.
But, as a historical record, the statue is flawed. If you look closely at the two figures shown in the carving, you will notice that if they both were to stand up, they are badly out of proportion. Jesus' head would come well below his mother's arm pit. To show the figures in realistic proportions, would make the scene virtually impossible to carve.
Television actors Grant Bowler and Taylor Schilling perform the leading roles in the 2011 feature film “Atlas Shrugged.'
The artist has achieved his goal in his art. If someone were to come along and try to make a photographic record of the statue, using natural human models, he would succeed only in pointing out the artistic license which makes the original statue a thing of beauty.
One of my favorite novels is ''Atlas Shrugged,'' a 1957 creation of Russian-born novelist Ayn Rand. Recently, a wealthy businessman has made a feature film, which officially opened on April 17 of this year, based on segments of the novel. He titled the film ''Atlas Shrugged - Part I.'' Sadly, like the suggested photo of the Pieta, he has found himself in a situation in which his efforts just don't work. Although some political elements in our contemporary society have rushed in to claim the film as a valid political statement, and its apparent economic failure as a wicked plot by those who don't politically agree with it, in fact his film just isn't very good.
Ayn Rand was a novelist and philosopher. She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, more than a decade before revolutions created the first nation to proclaim itself a communist state. Her parents were Russian Jews, who named her Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum.
According to my research, they did not reveal the source of her famed pen name, although one theory is that it comes from the Hebrew word Ayin, which means "eye.''
She moved to the United States in 1926, where she soon found work, writing scripts for the new film industry, in Hollywood. Her fame as a writer is based upon two novels, ''The Fountainhead,'' which she wrote shortly before World War II, and based on famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and the giant ''Atlas Shrugged,'' a novel of more than 1,000 pages, which came out shortly after the war.
Her family suffered greatly from the rise of communism. Her father's prosperous pharmacy was confiscated by government officials, leaving the family penniless, for example. While universities in Czarist Russia admitted only students who were male and of the aristocratic class, Rand was admitted to Petrograd State University, by the communists, only to be expelled from her studies when she was only a few weeks from graduation, because she was accused of being ''bourgeois'' or middle class.
Eventually, a group of touring scientists whom the communists wished to impress, demanded that the expelled students be reinstated, and she graduated in 1924. Experiences such as these left her convinced that governments which attempted to bring about the collective good, succeeded only in marring society and bringing an end to progress.
That philosophy permeates her subsequent writings, and indeed, her entire life.
Rand considered herself an atheist who believed that the ultimate good was rational thought. She believed that only free market capitalism, with no regulations beyond prevention of violence, was the only worthwhile system of economics.
She became a voluntary ''friendly witness'' before the House Unamerican Activities Committee of Congress, and actively supported a number of political candidates, especially Republican Presidential candidate Wendell Wilke, who ran unsuccessfully against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
She was known during that period as an enthusiastic user of amphetamines, which were then sold legally as diet aids and ''pep pills.'' Supporters would blame the drugs for wild mood swings which cost her public support at public rallies. In her public speeches, she spoke emotionally against the Vietnam War, yet called young men who refused to fight in the war, ''bums.''
Although she married she supported the right to abortions, and called the Arab-Israeli conflict an example of ''civilized men (Israelis) fighting against savages.''
Among the young intellectuals who connected themselves with her and her beliefs was Alan Greenspan, who later became associated with the Federal Reserve. Her last big political campaign was in support of the candidacy of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for President of the U.S.
A life-long heavy smoker, Ms. Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in the 1970s, and died at age 77, in 1982.
The title ''Atlas Shrugged'' refers to Greek mythology. Atlas was a Titan, an ancestor of the Olympian Gods of Greece, in their beliefs. It was believed that he stood near the northern coast of Africa, and held the sky up, off the surface of the Earth, so that life could exist on the land.
In later civilizations, Atlas would be shown holding the globe of the whole earth on his shoulders, but that is not mythologically accurate.
Ayn Rand's novel suggests that certain creative capitalists, through their hard work and creative energy, keep the entire government working, and carry it on their shoulders. Her title suggests that if those creative individuals should refuse to carry all the dead weight hangers-on, that all of society would collapse; as though Atlas were to shrug off his heavy burden.
The novel is set in the future, in which the world has become a dystopia, or a place in which living conditions have become horrible.
The principal characters are Dagny Taggart, who is vice president of one of the last surviving railroads in the U.S. Her brother, James, is president of the company, but he lacks courage and is unable to act decisively, so she makes nearly all the operating decisions.
The most successful corporation in America in the book's plot, is Wyatt Oil, a corporation which has been wildly profitable in the state of Colorado, although the government has assessed constant fines and taxes on the company, to make up for all the failed industries in surrounding states.
The oil company's founder, Ellis Wyatt needs some way to get his oil to markets, or risks losing everything. The Taggarts' railroad is an obvious answer, but James Taggart insists upon ordering steel rails to keep his line in repair from Orren Boyle's steel company, from which the railroad has been ordering steel for decades, even though they often fail to make deliveries and sometimes produce inferior products.
Dagny decides to overrule her brother, and instead, orders steel from a new steel mill, run by Hank Reardon, which has been declared unsafe and dangerous by government sources, but which Dagny has a gut feeling is really stronger and better than traditional steel.
Soon Dagny finds herself being strongly attracted to Reardon, although he has difficulty entering into an affair, despite the fact that his wife, mother and brother all treat him with contempt as a money-loving barbarian.
The two build a successful rail line to bring the Colorado oil to market, but they believe they need new and better technology to grow into the future. In an abandoned motor vehicle company in Wisconsin, they find blue prints and a model of an engine which can produce enormous power with almost no fuel. They begin to search for the engine's inventor.
While this is happening, two other forces are at work. Government officials and rivals are at work on regulations to force the successful pair to share the profits and successes from their project, and a man in dark clothes with a large hat which obscures his face, pays regular visits to the most hard-working and dependable executives, including Dagny's and Reardon's own employees.
This dark figure convinces the successful workers to leave everything and go with him. Although the film ends at that point, the novel tells us that the dark figure is the mysterious John Galt. He has plotted a strike by the hard-working and creative people of society - what amounts to a shrug by the Atlas of talent and ambition - to get rid of the dead weight and restore progress.
Naturally, the lovely Dagny eventually moves on to a relationship with Galt.
The book has a number of contradictions within it. Rand constantly praises what she calls the virtues of selfishness, and she rejects the philosophy that anyone ought to sacrifice his own self-interests for the interests of others. But, she derides and ridicules figures such as Dagny's brother, who uses altruism as a method of producing self-interest.
Her main creators are all moral men, who pay fairly for what they need, including raw materials, who profit from what they earn, but do not take excessive profits, and who respect the employees without whom they could not produce the products which make them rich and powerful.
Rand died in 1982, but I suspect she would have had difficulty squeezing the Wall Street of the past decade with her community of great men.
Rand's novels have had long flirtations with the movie industry, but relatively little success. Her earlier, shorter novel, ''The Fountainhead,'' was made into a film in the 1940s, which starred Gary Cooper, but although it followed very closely the screenplay which Rand had written herself, she utterly rejected and reviled the finished film.
''Atlas Shrugged'' has been through dozens of different attempts, although this is the first one to legally reach release to the public. There were at least two pirated versions, over the years. Rand decided once again to write her own screenplay, but she died in 1982, with the work less than half finished.
In 1992, a wealthy businessman named John Aglialoro paid $1 million to Rand's estate, for complete control over a possible film. One newspaper article which I read claimed that his option was within a few days of expiring, so he rushed a version onto film, while it was still his. I wasn't able to confirm that, but it could be true.
During his nearly 20 years of holding the option of the story, Aglialoro has occasionally suggested that he was about to make a film, including one announcement that Angelina Jolie was prepared to play Dagny, and Brad Pitt was prepared to portray John Galt. As it happens, television actor Taylor Schilling from the medical drama ''Mercy'' ended up as Dagny, and Grant Bowler, an actor from the cast of ''Ugly Betty,'' and a werewolf in the cast of ''True Blood,'' portrayed industrialist Hank Reardon.
Paul Johansson, a young director, largely known for being a friend of Jason Priestly and a director of the television series ''Beverly Hills: 90210'' both directed the film and appeared as the mysterious John Galt.
I saw two problems with the film. First of all, the novel was written shortly after World War II, and the realities of the world have changed, since then. Just as one example, when the book was written, the railroad was overwhelmingly the principal transport system. When the government began building and maintaining the interstate highway system, trucks largely replaced railroads, because they could leave at any time convenient to transporters, and because the railroads had to buy the land their tracks rested upon, lay the tracks, maintain the tracks and the trains themselves, and more.
The film says that by 2016, the price of gasoline will be approaching $40 per gallon, which has made motoring impossible to any but the most wealthy, and made gas-guzzling airplanes unusable. Fine, that situation would make rail travel the only practical method, but how did the giant railways of the Taggart family spring up in five years, along with decades of family tradition?
Far more important, considering the economic situation which is currently afflicting our country, how can the filmmakers dare to suggest that wealthy industrialists, if left completely unregulated, will act responsibly and decently, claiming a reasonable profit, but paying for what they use and respecting the people who produce their products? It just doesn't wash.
I never in my life would have expected how effectively people can pull what they believe out of a collection of facts and opinions, and simultaneously reject things with which they already disagree. I'm sure the reactions to this film will be in a similar form.