Finally I'm suspicious of Scruton's religiosity. He wont come out and say it but I reckon he may be a Christian of some kind. Which is ok, of course, but when he keeps talking about the 'sacred' and 'the soul' I'm not sure that he's not hinting at a God-based value system that trumps all others what, truly, if we dont Believe, do we mean by such terms anyway?
Again that's ok if that's what he's into but if he thinks he's got the skinny on Ultimate Values because he Believes then he should say so. Otherwise let him get on with scrambling around, baffled and intermittently courageous, just like the rest of us, finding values -and -yes, beauty- in whatever strange and unexpected places they present themselves.
I think the difference between the art Scruton loves and the art he dislikes is literally Academic.
Why Beauty Matters
Before the early Twentieth century few artists or architects studied for degrees at universities or colleges, they were apprenticed to studios or worked independently. Now an academic route is mandatory, exposure and conformity to intellectual doctrines is expected, individuality and connection to the wider audience is crushed. It is the academisation of the arts that should be questioned.
Well, I'm in bed with 'bazza' and worry that Mrs Angela Gregory is someone, like Scruton, who would keep us in perpetual lovely sunsets. Those who worry that beauty is absent all around us and then say that that is what is wrong with art are putting a very large cart in front of the horse.
If you wish to rail against 'ugly' architecture, for instance, I would invite you to analyse more closely the logic of the situation. First some modern architecture is extraordinarily beautiful the Guggenheim in Bilbao springs to mind , second, some architecture is beautiful in concept but is spoiled by either shortage of funds for building or later maintenance and third, some buildings were never even designed to be beautiful but purely utilitarian. The state of the world around us has everything to do with utilitarianism, politics and economics and only rarely is allowed to indulge in being artistic.
Scruton totally failed to make that intellectual differentiation and instead betrayed his conservative roots by praising the soulless Poundbury. Much contemporary art is a mirror to tell us how we put economics above beauty: if you don't want to pay taxes to get beauty in your area then don't expect miracles.
Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull is the most brilliant satirical take on modern-day pursuit of money. Scruton's programme was excrutiatingly bad. As a contemporary artist I can happily acknowledge that many of the concerns aired by Roger Scruton in his lengthy television essay are genuine and widely shared.
» Why Beauty Matters
However as a critical thinker I was scandalised by his lack of argument and clear reasoning. Super-big concepts like 'art', 'beauty', 'creativity', 'the soul' and 'spirit' were simply dropped in without a moments argument or explanation. I felt sorry for serious philosophers of art and aesthetics - here we had an opportunity for a philosopher to show what philosophy can do on Saturday night TV and instead we get a self-indulgent personalised view whose only method was to appeal to the authority of great past thinkers.
There are many people who could have done a better job. One suspects Roger Scruton was choosen as a opportunity for the slightly comic fogey qualities. Has he had a stroke? He doesn't seem very sharp these days. How disappointing that Scruton chose Poundbury as an example of the beautiful in architecture, when an essential part of true beauty is - surely - authenticity. Whatever its visual appearance, Poundbury is a contrived fake.
Thank you for all your comments, which took the debate on from the programme, which is definitely one of theartsdesk's ideas. Also, thank you for all the Poundbury-bashing. A few of my thoughts: Bazza: I agree that 'new emotions, new worlds of experience' are one of the purposes of art, but that need not necessarily class it as 'beauty': an art installation could cut my little toe off and that would be a new experience but it would not be beautiful.
Contrarily, the familiar can also be beautiful: I can stare at a late Monet again and again, and each time I think it's beautiful. Also, isn't Scruton's talk of the soul and sacredness not dissimilar to you mentioning a 'transfer of life energy'? They're both basically spiritual. John Ellis: I think you're right that utility has a place in the world a central place, indeed , but can it really be that someone designs something without thinking it beautiful at all?
Surely a designer of utilitarian buildings finds utility beautiful? Rob Van Beek: Should we have expected Scruton to start from first principles? It seems that to ask him to define every term he uses would be excessive. Josh's Missing Toe and it's implications Back in the 18th cent they would pull the curtains on the stagecoach so that the ladies and gents wouldn't see the 'horror' of the Lake District.
That was back when wild nature wasn't well mapped and was full of bears and wolves -it could kill you, basically, so we didn't see it as Beautiful. Now we put it on postcards. Beauty, for sure, is a flexible noun, and, Josh, apropos of your poor toe, I knew people who went to see a big Italian boy Fabio was it? Not my bag but hey. Maybe that's the issue: the word can mean whatever you want. I come back to the 'subjective'. As in the movie 'American Beauty': Dead Birds? Hot cheerleaders? The basic fabric of the Everyday?
As for this 'Spiritual' malarkey.
A transfer of energy is just that: stuff rots down and out of it grows other stuff. Acid works on metal to create electricity. The sun is retained in coal and oil. Can be used to heat again.
Spiritual's not in it. Bazza Blood draining? The series and my two articles on it are trying to work out if there is a centre, something definable. If it turned out that it's just a trick of temperament, I'd be a surprised; and b disappointed. Well, yeah, you will be if you're looking for some kind of immutable gold standard where all is a slurry of subjectivity.
Look at that italian bloke having blood drained from his body: like I say, I didn't get beyond revulsion really but you can easily imagine someone who did: she would be mid 30's, American possibly New York Jewish and a hardcore performance art fan and she might say that Fabio gave us his act of blood sacrifice so that we can mediate on what makes us alive. It was shamanic, she would would enthuse, he was touching in his vulnerability, it was very moving, it was Who can say she's wrong anymore than one could persuade Roger out of his love for Leon Krier by saying he's old hat?
I think it would be better if we just said the perception of beauty was a feeling like jealousy or fear of snakes: not susceptible to logic. And speaking of disappointment, I echo the correspondant below in my own. I watched the programme because I'd read Scruton's 'Animal Right and Wrongs' which was a lucid and logical philosophical argument where no appeals were made to holy sounding intangibles.
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In the process, he illuminates the poverty, dehumanization and fraud of modernist and post-modernist cynicism, reductionism and nihilism. Scruton discusses how the human aspiration and longing for truth, goodness and beauty are universal and fundamentally important and that the value of anything is not utilitarian and without meaning e. Human beings are not purposeless material objects for mechanistic manipulation by others, and civil society itself depends upon a cultural consensus that beauty is real and every person should be respected with compassion as having dignity and nobility with very real spiritual needs to encounter and be transformed and uplifted by beauty.
Beauty , by Roger Scruton. Modern Culture , by Roger Scruton. The Abolition of Man , by C. Baggett, Gary R.
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