On my way through life I find beauty in the strangest of places and vistas. Not so with Mr. Scruton, who says: “I think we are losing beauty and with it there is the danger of losing the meaning of life.”
– we are living through the ‘uglification’ of our world – the randomization of our cities, the pornification of sexual love, the spoliation of the natural world, and the pollution of everything by consumerism and appetite.
British philosopher, writer, and composer
I’m not especially pro pornification, spoliation or pollution, but this doesn’t mean that there cannot be incredible beauty to be found in the uglier sides of the world. Beauty can be found – everywhere, even in … ugliness?!
Dam #6, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, 2005 © Edward Burtynsky
To me this picture of ugliness is incredible beautiful.
Maybe we have to sharpen our focus, and try to draw nearer to the really impossible question:
What exactly is beauty?
For Scruton, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it is an objective truth: In the 20th century, he says, beauty stopped being important, art increasingly aimed to disturb and break moral taboos, it was not beauty but originality however achieved. Are we happy with the direction art is taking? Away from seeking “higher virtues” such as beauty and craftmanship, and instead, towards novelty for novelty’s sake, provoking emotional response under the guise of socio-political discourse?
Through the pursuit of beauty, suggests Scruton, we shape the world as our own and come to understand our nature as spiritual beings. But art has turned its back on beauty and now we are surrounded by ugliness.
A problem for me, with Scruton’s argumentation, is that he ends up defining art as something very close to decorum – and we end up with beauty being just another form of etiquette, actually, as I see it, not very spiritual nor true (two important notions of beauty in a classical view). To me Scruton’s ideal sounds like a historical museum, nice to visit, but not made for life.
Ah! The complexity of things –
There might actually be a kind of spirituality in Burtynsky’s images of destruction, pollution and spoliation, a beauty as beautiful as the sensual beauty of say … Venus?