Roger Scruton is a British philosopher with a tall mess of strawberry blond hair and an English fashion sense. His patterned suit coat, patterned shirt, and patterned tie played wonderfully into the British stereotype. That being said, his lecture did anything but.
This past week I went into DC to a beautiful club for Scruton's lecture on Beauty. Scruton is boldly breaking from modern aesthetic philosophy on beauty to say that it is absolutely necessary, that it is about redeeming human life and making this world livable. I found the lecture very encouraging and thought provoking. I will try to give a coherent picture of his lecture (I'm going to quote him periodically. He was free with his language so I'm sorry if it is offensive to anyone):
He started by noting that beauty is not paid attention to much these days, saying that there is "nothing which to raise your eyes." In the world of art, he went on, beauty has been neglected; we are stuck in a moment in which art is not the pursuit of beauty but the desecration of it. He called this the tragedy of modern life and by neglecting beauty we produce ultimately useless things. We can see this in the buildings built and torn down without thought in contrast to the buildings that we want to save. Why? Because pure function "resigns things to oblivion."
One of my favorite points of the lecture came after this introduction. He clarified beauty to be beyond just "art". Scruton thinks of beauty and its place in the lives of real people; where does beauty fit in the lives of ordinary people? He envisioned a table set for dinner, an easy image to conjure at this time of year! The arranging of the items, the making of the food, the inviting people to participate ... its not just a matter of food in the belly. With that image in mind, contrast it to much of art today: not inviting others in; "its ME on display and f*** you if you don't like it." In the Q&A time afterwards a gentleman in the back asked Scruton to define beauty. Scruton gave a wry smile and said that that is like trying to define "red". Beauty is defining "a state of mind in the objects, the arragnging of the world so that you are at home in it."
So why is it, Scruton asked, that our tastes in ordinary things like food are not argued about but accepted as part of a person but with beauty we want to discuss what we like and why. He claimed that it is because these are things that actually can demean the human condition which matters incredibly to you, being part of humanity. The desecration of beauty is oppressive and being oppressed, there ought to be some discussion about this!
At this point I connected this to why there is a noticeable lack of interest in/engagement with art today: not only because the artist is not inviting the viewer in but because this needed "discussion" mentioned above is a difficult and blurry path to go down.
Scruton gave some interesting thoughts on education, saying that there should be some education in producing the things that entertain us, giving us a foundation of knowledge upon which to base an opinion of what we listen to, look at, enjoy, etc. And that way, he claimed, there might be some agreement in community of what entertains us.
Well, where does the desecration of beauty/humanity start? Scruton had what I thought was a great point, that it starts with the ruling thought that "I am alone." That is the downfall.
Well, I am not alone! And I hope that provoked you to some thoughts on beauty and humanity as well.