June 19, 2012

Something Wonderful: Why Beauty is Important

BBC - Why Beauty Matters - Full Version - BBC... by singaporegeek

"We no longer have time for the good,
the beautiful,
or whether or not something is true.
We have only time for conversation."
-- John Cage

No, do not go. Rest easy here awhile. This will take time, true, but the good, the true, and the beautiful always does. Here "Roger Scruton presents a provocative essay on the importance of beauty in the arts and in our lives, making a case for restoring it to the centre of our civilisation."

[This meditation on beauty in this ugly age came up in the extended discussion regarding "The Cult of Ugliness" in the Sidebar over there on the right. I remembered that I had indeed showcased Scrunton's program in its entireity back in 2009. Here it is again. More that worth the 58 minutes it takes to watch it. That is if you care about the beautiful. And you do, right?]

Some quotes:

"What is shocking the first time round is boring and vacuous when repeated. This makes art into an elaborate joke but one that has ceased to be funny."

"The greatest crime against beauty the world has yet seen. The crime of modern architecture."

"Nothing is more useful than the useless. People come here because it is the last bit of life around and the life comes from the building.... Our feeling for beauty is a spiritual and not a sensual emotion. Beauty is a visitor from another world. We can do nothing with it save contemplate its pure radiance. Anything else pollutes and desecrates it. Destroying its sacred aura."

"There has been, among today's artists, a desire to destroy and to desecrate.... This willful desecration is also a denial of love; a desire to remake the world as though love were not a part of it.... Conceptual art is entirely word-bound. It is a work of art is exhausted in its description."

"The ugliest of modern art and architecture does not show reality but takes revenge on it. The call of beauty is what gives our life meaning.... We must look for the path back from the desert, the place where the real and the ideal may still exist in harmony.... The sacred and the beautiful stand side by side. Two doors that open onto a single space, and in that space we find our home."

Posted by Vanderleun at June 19, 2012 7:43 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Sometimes, I wish I'd gone to college, so that I could come up with this sort of brilliance on a dime. Alas, I am but edurbated, which means that things still surprise me when I discover them, and I giggle a lot.

Posted by: Jewel at December 27, 2009 11:33 PM

One of my other "professors":

Posted by: Jewel at December 27, 2009 11:38 PM

I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding. It's "beauty" stupid.

In the Louvre there is a sculpture section that can take your breath away with its beauty.

I'm not moved, excited or disturbed by the "urinal." I'm bored. Like he said I'd be.

I bet most of us that come here, don't have to wait to be told when something's art. And when someone tells us a beaker of urine with a Crucifix is art we don't need to be told it isn't.

Posted by: mare at December 28, 2009 12:20 AM

Yes, Scruton was one of the best and most prolific conservative writers in Britain; then he got caught with his trousers off in bed with the Jap baccy barons, prostituting his art, and has had a period in the wilderness as a result.


Let's hope he is emerging from his hiatus. There is a dearth of non-leftist academics in the UK after two full generations of University Agit-prop and Scruton's philosophical perspectives are sorely needed. Shame when the murky mix of PR and propaganda deprives us of the work a distinctive thinker.

Posted by: Frank P at December 28, 2009 7:38 AM

That was one of the more worthwhile hours I've spent recently. Thanks, Gerard.

Mare is right, we don't need to be told that something is art, or that it's beautiful. We know. The Pieta is beautiful. "Piss Christ" isn't. And you don't have to be Catholic or even Christian to comprehend the difference.

The blowhard trying to justify the urinal as art and the airhead with the unmade bed are the types who dominate the "art scene" these days. But they're only fooling those who want to be fooled. The rest of us know they're full of it and always have been. Too bad we don't seem to have much of a voice these days.

Posted by: waltj at December 28, 2009 8:17 AM

Yes, mare! I know the sculpture gallery in the Louvre you mentioned. My visual memory is weak, but I remember that space and in particular a male figure in repose there. It brought me one of those transcendent moments both at the time of my visit and just now with the memory of it.

What is it about modern man - westerners in particular - that he rarely asks himself, "what good does it serve?" Perhaps because he knows the answer to "what god do I serve" is Ego, but is simultaneously too vain and self-loathing to admit it?

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at December 28, 2009 8:40 AM

And those that think this shocking crap is "art," think that Obama is wonderful... another emperor with no clothes.... good grief will we ever be rid of these ingrates?

Posted by: BG at December 28, 2009 9:27 AM

Roger Scruton has brains and soul.

He also has balls.

When he was a prof at Boston U, he was attacked continually by the left---which was most of the social sciences, and of course the dept of anguish (english)


Prof Scruton treated these attacks with the respect they deserved.

He ignored them.

His replies to left-wing rants and proposals in "Liberal Arts" faculty meetings were models of bloodless knifing. When he was through, nothing remained but their clothes and a few greasy chunks.

Posted by: Lance e Boyle at December 28, 2009 10:01 AM

If there is one thing I note about Professor Scruton throughout the videos, and it probably is the chief characteristic which stands out, perhaps the watermark of his life, it is this:
profound sorrow. Sublimely beautiful deep sorrow.

Posted by: Jewel at December 28, 2009 1:18 PM


the answer/antidote to jeffers' misanthropy and its descendents.

bestest of new years to you all:

may your joys be amplified and may your sorrows be consoled.

Posted by: reliapundit at December 29, 2009 10:18 PM

Along with several of your essays, this is the best thing you've posted on this site. I watched the series three times.

Posted by: Quent at December 30, 2009 9:38 PM

There has been, I think, a resurgeance in beauty in architecture.

The Michigan Hall of Justice.

The Van Buren Twp. (Mich.) Fire Department.


Posted by: Mikey NTH at January 1, 2010 10:10 AM

35th district court, Plymouth, Michigan.


Posted by: Mikey NTH at January 1, 2010 10:13 AM

Nice pointers. Things are looking up in some parts of Michigan.

Posted by: vanderleun at January 1, 2010 10:24 AM

It's wonderful to see beautiful buildings that aren't crumbling in Michigan!

Posted by: Jewel at June 18, 2012 8:17 PM

I believe the philosophers and promulgators of the Modern/Post-Modern have betrayed several generations in Western Civilization by cutting them off from knowledge of their rightful past. In a sense, those who should have been nurtured by the values and habits of our intellectual and moral heritage have been led away from that heritage, forcing them to emigrate to a desert world bereft of so much that would have, as Scruton puts it, “amplified their joy and consoled their sorrows”.

In many ways the intellectual journey of the past couple of centuries has led too many of each generation to a metaphorical emigration to a new, Modern/Post-Modern world that—as yet—coexists with those who still recognize and practice their ever-threatened heritage. The emigres have intellectually followed the path described by Horace Bushnell, in “Barbarism the First Danger”. He wrote that for a group of people, “emigration, or a new settlement of the social order, involves a tendency to social decline. . . . . The society transplanted . . . cannot carry its roots with it; for society is a vital creation, having roots of antiquity, which inhere in the very soil—in the spots consecrated by valor, by genius and by religion. Transplanted to a new field, the emigrant race lose, of necessity, a considerable portion of that vital life force which is the organic and conserving power of society. All the old roots of local love and historic feeling—the joints and bands that minister nourishment—are left behind; and nothing remains to organize a living growth, but the two unimportant incidents, proximity and a common interest. . . . . For the immense labors and rough hardships necessary to be encountered, in the way of providing the means of living, will immediately create in them a rough and partially wild habit. Then, as their tastes grow wild, their resentments will grow violent and their enjoyments coarse.”

They have become the most dangerous sort of enemies, what Helen MacInnes called “the Educated Barbarian.” They have been given an education that indulges them in the useless, the emotional, the crude, and which has left no way to, in Bushnell’s words, “provide themselves with the means of living”—physical or intellectual. It has, however, provided them with an education that leads many of them to know just what to attack, how to attack it, and what will do the most damage.

And so truth and beauty and the good are no longer shared beacons to our future. The newly transplanted intellectual emigres, lost in their own desert, celebrate not the ideal nude, but the naked; not grand and moving despair, but the disgusting; they deal not with loss, but with ridicule; not with the sacred—or even the profane—but with the trivial and empty; not with awe but with ennui. They prize the meaningless and sterile. Yet all humans seek meaning, and the emigres find it, like all barbarians, in hatred and destruction. All of this can be seen in the forces of Political Correctness, and in the questions you are not allowed even to ask. All this in a world in desperate need of truth, beauty, and good, workable answers.

Posted by: Minta Marie Morze at June 19, 2012 1:19 AM

I was wondering where this video had gone as I have misplaced it in my notes.

Thank you for reposting it, Gerard!

Posted by: Cond0011 at June 19, 2012 5:03 AM

My brother said I have been too obscure in my comment above, so I need to say that I believe that several generations of students who have passed through schools, being “educated” — propagandized — by the Left, are like emigres who have “left” the country of their legitimate heritage—America—and live as though they have moved to a Modern and PostModern place of nihilism, relative values, PC, and emotional childishness.

They have lost touch with the history and values they should have learned, and, in their ignorance, don’t recognize their surroundings and are alienated from those things that have made America great and exceptional. Being lost in an ugly, barren intellectual desert imposed on them by the left, they have all the characteristics of refugees who have wandered away from what they might have been.

Posted by: Minta Marie Morze at June 19, 2012 11:57 PM

...refugees who have wandered away from what they might have been.

Indeed, some have. Others, particularly those lacking talent, discernment (i.e., taste), or both, have embraced the postmodern wasteland as their own and have done their best to make our world as well as theirs as ugly as possible. They have only succeeded too well. I remain hopeful that a "reconquista" of sorts can reclaim art and culture from the barbarians who rule it now, but the hour grows late.

Posted by: waltj at June 20, 2012 5:39 AM

Thanks so much Gerard!!! That was well worth the time, must have missed it first time around. It is encouraging that so many can see this now!

Posted by: pink lady at June 20, 2012 5:38 PM

Nonsense. It isn’t the commoditization of art (or science, for that matter) that makes it ugly and life-diminishing. Artists and architects (for cathedrals, for instance) didn’t work for free, even if it was just a matter of room and board while they worked. Usually it was a lot more. Cellini, Mozart, Velasquez, Leonardo and Michelangelo, just to pick out names, were very well-paid. Art has ALWAYS been a commodity, because it’s only value is subjective, and therefore whatever worth it has beyond the cost of the materials in it is dependent on extrinsic elements. The motive behind the movement of ugly art in this country is Ideological Leftism. Wherever ideological Leftism provides the motive, art serves the purpose of the ideologues, and it is ugly and/or unbelievably tendentious, and the support for the art is channeled through Leftist hands.

The free market allows non-ideological art to exist. When the values of a group of people are life-enhancing and touch the transcendent, art and architecture for that group can be absolutely free-market and at the same time be beautiful and truthful. The free market itself is a tool, and does not debase or invigorate what it touches; the values and drives of the people involved are what determine the purposes for which the free-market tool is used.

Avant-garde kitsch is Left Wing. It's destroying opera, for instance. (As opposed to just garden-variety kitsch, quotidian, and tawdry art, which has always been with us, and always will be, where people are free to create art.)

Posted by: Minta Marie Morze at June 23, 2012 1:13 PM

To further state what I'm saying above: As for science and whether it can be considered a commodity, Hitler kicked out Jewish scientists, the French Revolution executed Lavoisier (“the father of modern chemistry) with the famous statement that the Republic (of France) needed no scientists—of course they did, but my point is what Lavoisier could do in the future wasn’t as important as the ideological need to execute him—and, for a third example, the Soviet Union’s whole history, and as a revealing example, Trofim Lysenko, whose ideology was useful to Stalin and whose science was fraudulent and set-back the science of Russia in a terrible way, not to mention his destruction of brilliant scientists who could have helped Russia, like Nikolai Vavilov. Just go to the Wiki or any other such source for Lavoisier and Lysenko or Hitler’s science.

Leftist (Collectivist) ideology uses talent for what THEY want, and not for where the truth leads them. In our universities and schools, many questions are simply forbidden by PC rules, as well as their answers. The free market, when separated from the uses the Leftists (Collectivists) would impose on it, allows people of talent an outlet.

Posted by: Minta Marie Morze at June 23, 2012 1:42 PM