Roger Scruton’s Why Beauty Matters; And Did I Have a Small Part in It?

Roger Scruton’s excellent presentation Why Beauty Matters, a BBC production, has seen a resurgence, over a million views on this embedded YouTube video. Several people have forwarded it to me and I remember seeing it ages ago. In re-watching it I was struck by the coincidence of the same four postmodern works in his presentation and in my article Pandora’s Box Part III. I was kind of horrified that I might have subconsciously lifted them from him without being aware of it. I didn’t.

I was relieved that my article Pandora’s Box Part III was published in the Free Radical (magazine and online) in 2002, while this Scruton publication was released almost 8 years later in November 2009. The four works are canned shit, Manzoni’s Merde d’artista; empty room, Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off; a urinal, Duchamp’s The Fountain; and bricks in a room at the Tate by Andre.

Scruton discusses them at 4:45 to 6:00 and he says: “It has been interrupted in another way by showing that anything can be art. Like a light going on and off, a can of excrement, or even a pile of bricks.”

In a section from my article which I discuss the postmodern works I write: “Kant’s concept of the formless nature of the sublime is the ideological birthplace of the postmodern aesthetic that art, visual art, doesn’t need to be expressed through the means of representational painting or sculpture. In practice, this aesthetic opened up the floodgates of a nihilistic revolution in the 20th Century in which postmodern artists deconstructed art and/or substituted any object but painting or sculpture for art, i.e. arranged rubbish, excrement, installations, etc.”

Bemusedly, I was wondering if my article was the source for “It has been interrupted…” I am just having a little fun figuratively flexing my muscles showing that I have been ahead of the curve. BTW, Pandora’s Box Part III is a wonderful article touching on a few of Kant’s concepts of the Sublime how they are connected to some horrible postmodern works, and I optimistically share some magnificent contemporary figurative works.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 2/14/2020

5 Replies to “Roger Scruton’s Why Beauty Matters; And Did I Have a Small Part in It?”

  1. Interesting article…and I agree with Eric Wayne…a lot of things have been passed off as art, and art they may well be, as they are in the museums, sold in great art shows like Art Basel Miami Beach and here in Madrid at ARCO…but the reality is that found objects, objects that are meant to be functional or parts of greater machines or furniture, is not art. This may sound polemical but art has to be crafted, has to be worked, has to be developed from an idea to transmit other ideas. Art has to entertain but it also has to communicate and must come from the talent of the artist. Things that anyone can do, may be art, but they are not very valuable. What is wrong with the art world today is that those things that anyone can do, that require no talent and practically no imagination, are being sold as art and at high prices…and I ask myself why? I think it is a response to the new rich, who can buy anything they want except great pieces of art, as art is a limited commodity, therefore they sponsor “artists” like Banksi, Hirst, Koons, among others like Cattelan, they purchase their “art” at incredible prices and then they have to keep buying so that their “art work” does not lose value…I know it sounds crazy, but I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would pay over 100.000$ for a banana taped to a wall (and all the buyer got was a certificate that she bought the piece and from now on she has the “right” to tape a banana to her wall…after all the original banana was eaten in situ…Incredible!
    Great post, thank you!
    Greetings from Spain

  2. I use those same examples in a lot of articles, though I prefer Creeds crumpled piece of paper. You could throw in Hirst’s shark tank, Emin’s bed, and so on. These are works that get crammed down our throat in contemporary art education. How about Warhol’s Brillo boxes? I think a lot of artists are reacting against these same pieces precisely because they are the pieces that we are told are pillars in the radical new evolution of art, especially Duchamp’s cursed “Fountain”.

    And I think we all have an inkling that beauty is the cornerstone of art, which I believe it is as well. That said, who knows, he may have read your article.

    Note that to keep up to day we can add Banky’s insider prank of his self-destructing print, and Maurizio Cattelan’s banana to the pantheon of bullshit art.

    1. Thank you for the reply Eric. It’s unexpected to get a good feeling from your hands on experience with these forms. Classical painters are a bit naive and have trouble thinking out of the box, and PMists are often blind and immature. you are in neither of those camps; refreshing.

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