Why Beauty Matters [Video]

by on January 20, 2011 » Add more comments.

We can no longer afford to build ugly, soulless towns, and philosopher Roger Scruton explains why in this BBC program. It is a comprehensive explanation of how our relationship to beauty has evolved in modern society. It convincingly articulates how the timeless principles of art and architecture have been abandoned for the new ideal of originality and the cost that has had for our lives and our planet.

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January 22, 2011
9:37 am

I love this video! I feel the same way but never could have said it as well.

January 25, 2011
10:42 am

this is one of the great philosophical works of our time. Thank you Roger Scruton!

Scruton is currently in the USA for a fellowship at a DC think tank. We should hope that he has the opportunity to speak on this topic while he’s here.

Dustin Urban
January 25, 2011
10:46 am

Kennley, I totally agree. So well thought out, and his critique of modernism is really something- If we focus only on the uses of a building without paying attention to beauty, it will become useless.

@bl Interesting that he’s in the U.S. Those of us advocating for traditional design could sure use his help arguing our point!

Nitzan Design
February 5, 2011
2:05 am

The concept of “beauty” is something that has always fascinated, and there are many eloquent insights into to the role of beauty in these videos…… and though I enjoyed listening , and there is a lot of food for thought here, I would have preferred a more open view to what is considered “beautiful” …… something a bit old fashioned about the perspective here, this idea that only “classic beauty” is good. Classic beauty certainly has it’s place, but it would be a boring world if no one challenged it. And even the notion of “classic” can slowly evolve, no?

For me quite simply, beauty happens at that special moment where an involuntarily gasp comes from seeing something that overwhelms the senses …..

February 9, 2011
3:56 pm

Thank you Roger for not being afraid to tell the truth.

Real beauty, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is right proportion, order and clarity. That is classic, but it is timeless and should apply to the modern world as well because beauty is universal and is not “in the eye of the beholder”. In true art one always finds order, clarity, logic, simplicity and freedom, but at the same time – discipline.

Dustin Urban
February 10, 2011
6:38 am

@Nitzan Design, thanks for commenting. Good points. Clearly Scruton’s preferences for classical arts and music show through here… lots of beauty, including most of my preferences, doesn’t fall into these realms. I don’t think he’s saying that beauty is confined to these realms though.

Today I think it’s a question of being aware of the traditional wisdom (not intentionally rejecting it in favor of the ugly) and then innovating within those principles, a la Steve Mouzon’s New Living Tradition. On the architecture front, that’s what we’re striving for in South Main. We hope, for example, that this interior begins to approach that: http://livefromsouthmain.com/2010/11/24/a-photo-tour-of-a-most-innovative-interior/ . Cheers!

February 10, 2011
1:17 pm

The use of the phrase “classic beauty” begs for an explanation. Is every artwork called classic before modern? Is classic a period of time or is it a style? – Beauty exists without you or me. Those artworks that stood the test of time are beautiful regardless of the age when they were created. I think this is what Roger Scruton is explaining to us.

Dustin Urban – You have a nice little renovation project here, but I cannot see what you are striving for? What is innovative in the example you provided a link for? “Media cabinet efficiently doubles as a railing?” Don’t fool yourself! This small project should not be viewed as art, it is craftsmanship and a service to a client.

Jed Selby
February 11, 2011
6:56 pm

In my view, what all classical art has in common is, at its core, it is human based. Whether in painting, sculpture, theater or architecture this expression of ourselves, in a way that exposes all of our humanity, in its beauty and ugliness, is in essence, timeless. After all we are still the same size after all these years.

Modernism has a different icon and point of reference, the machine. As we systematically mechanize the world, including ourselves, we lose connection to the organic world. This is why modernist thinking, although compelling in many ways, becomes dated. Machines, and machine based design, do change and evolve much faster than humans and their evolution causes their obsolescence.

This does not mean I like all classical art nor dislike all modernist designs. One such modernism I really like is the modernism produced by classically trained architects. If done in a disciplined way can yield spectacular results.

In the Medici Chapel in Florence, Michelangelo, created some of the first modernist architecture by hiding the structural elements of the vaulted stone ceiling into the walls. Radical at the time but the design was based in one of the highest levels of classical understandings of architecture ever seen on earth. Certainly modernists of today may not call it modernism because it was human based, but it was referred as such, at that time.

While a media cabinet/railing is not intended to be art it is a design that exceeds the function. At some point, a design becomes inspiring and has the potentially enter the realm of art.

Our modernist ideals transcend nearly every aspect of our culture. It is worth trying to notice where the impact of this thinking is beneficial and where it has truly gone too far.

February 15, 2011
8:58 am

I think for me to, the distinction that classically the goal was beauty where as, in our modernist culture often the goal is to be shocking. To the point of taking what could be beautiful and making it ugly “truthful” because life is ugly? In reality as it has been expressed that to the core, earth, creation, is beautiful. We are touched all the time by the natural would around us. But rather then rising to the challenge of creating equally beautiful buildings, art… that compliment our natural world, we have to be unique. Our statement/ego is more important then the environment we create. As expressed in below article, Gehry’s buildings have some beauty but at what costs? Once you take the human equation out of the building it is no longer comfortable for humans.

Our quality of life is sacrificed for sprawl and ugliness. There is such a thing as timeless beauty. When you go to a Cathedral in Florence, whether you are religious, modern, or even normally unmoved by art you cannot help but marvel at the beauty and craftsmanship of the buildings and the place- it is timeless.
The temporary mindset of modernism is scary, what happens to buildings like Gehry’s when we decide that we are tired of them? The waste is monumental. Better places to experiment with pushing the limits might be paintings and light fixtures- then when we are tired of them they are easily discarded. :)

Dustin Urban
February 15, 2011
9:47 am

Great points, Jed and Kennley. @ej, perhaps that photo gallery is not itself beautiful, and you might even walk into that interior and dispute that it is beautiful. Fair enough. But in this neighborhood we’re building, South Main (and this is our blog), we are deeply committed to basing our architecture and design on the timeless principles of traditional architecture that give rise to beautiful places and buildings. Our goal is to create a place that will be loved and maintained for generations, and the principles have proven to stand the test of time. Which from a sustainability perspective, as Kennley points out, is hugely important. We can’t afford for buildings, neighborhoods and cities to go out of style!

If you’re ever in central Colorado, come check us out! Some may dispute that South Main is beautiful, but I think you may like it.

Anyhow, I think we’re all essentially on the same page that Roger Scruton is the man! :-)

If you’re interested, you can check out more photos of our neighborhood here http://www.flickr.com/photos/21350190@N04/sets/

April 26, 2011
3:10 pm

I applaud Roger for taking a very specific stance on beauty in contemporary culture, but I believe he is generalizing a lot of current work in the fields of art and architecture. Being an architect, I can list many modern works that capture beauty similar to the ancient cathedrals (John Pawson, Luis Barragan, Antonio Gaudi, Alvar Aalto, etc.) As Corbusier noted, you must put one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Roger seems too focused on stepping backwards rather than figuring out how to better move forward.

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