A few months ago, I was made aware of a documentary/educational program that aired on BBC called "Why Beauty Matters," an hour-long discussion of the philosophy of art and beauty with philosopher Roger Scruton. I was fascinated, captivated, and wanted quite badly to track down a way to view the show. Well, thankfully, the series is on YouTube, split into 6 ten minute segments.
And what an incredible program it is! Being enthusiastic about Beauty as a philosophy and life passion, I knew I would love this program. And although Scruton sometimes seems more rambling than absolute in his argument, I agree with everything he says in the program. Once I had heard of this program months ago, I started reading up on Scruton. I requested his book (aptly titled Beauty) from the library, and looked for articles by him online. I planned to write a rave review of his work in relation to the Pre-Raphaelites on my blog.
And then I found this article.
In it, Scruton discusses the second enemy of beauty besides ugliness....kitsch. And he says in the article:
"Look back at figurative art in the Western tradition and you will observe that, prior to the 18th century, there was primitive art, naive art, routine and decorative art, but no kitsch. Just when the phenomenon first appeared is disputable: maybe Greuze shows traces of it; maybe it had even been foreshadowed in Murillo. What is certain is that, by the time of Millet and the Pre-Raphaelites, kitsch was in the driving seat."
Wait...what?? My heart plummeted. This same philosopher whose work I so enthusiastically supported thinks of the Pre-Raphaelites as kitsch? So not only is my favorite art movement dismissed by modern art critics as too sentimental, but the philosopher who advocates a return to art for art's sake and beauty being the supreme value ALSO thinks the Pre-Raphaelites aren't worth a dime??
I was quite disappointed.
But please...watch the video. I may disagree with Scruton quite passionately in his judgment of my favorite art movement, but I wholeheartedly agree with his overall message, and the program captivated me, and even brought tears to my eyes in the end.
A few quotes I loved from the program:
"All art is absolutely useless,” wrote Oscar Wilde, who intended his remark as praise. For Wilde, beauty was a value higher than usefulness. People need useless things just as much, even more than, they need things with a use. Just think of it…what is the use of love, or friendship, of worship? None whatsoever. And the same goes for beauty.” “This returns me to Oscar Wilde’s remark that all art is absolutely useless. Put usefulness first, and you lose it. Put beauty first, and what you do will be useful forever. It turns out, nothing is more useful than the useless.”
And my favorite....
“Through the pursuit of beauty, we shape the world as a home, and in doing so, we both amplify our joys, and find consolation for our sorrows. Art and music shine a light of meaning on ordinary life, and through them we are able to confront the things that trouble us, and find consolation and peace in their presence. This capacity of beauty to redeem our suffering is one reason why beauty can be seen as a substitute for religion. Why give priority to religion? Why not say that religion is a beauty substitute? Or better still, why describe the two as rivals? The sacred and the beautiful stand side by side; two doors that open up into a single space, and in that space, we find our home.”