Elitist … or revolutionary? Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters” (2009 BBC, Full Episode)


Roger Scruton, in “Why Beauty Matters,” his provocative BBC documentary on contemporary art, claims that we are losing beauty, and with it, the meaning of life itself. He coolly maintains that beauty “is a value, like truth and goodness,” and decries the fact that the world has turned its back on beauty… in this hour-long essay he wants to persuade us that “beauty is a universal value” – he bemoans the spiritual desert we have made for ourselves and offers “to show us the way… home.” He says that it all started with Marcel Duchamp, “who signed a urainal (urinal, in UK-speak) with a fictitious name… to enter a competition – Scruton concedes that when it was “made” that “the urainal” satirized the world of art, but that now, along with the legacy it engendered, it has been interpreted in another way, “showing us that anything could be art” He goes on to proffer, … with some justification, that when something which is shocking is repeated, it becomes “vacuous, empty… ”

“Because art needs creativity” Scruton intones – over a soundtrack of  beautiful baroque music – a piece of contemporary art which “shows us the here and now,”… warts and all … a work that might portray the world with all its “imperfections”  (cut to cooky installations, the work of Jeff Koons and Banksy (!) ) … that any such work is ultimately imperfect because while it may offer a slice or reality, ugliness included… it falls short of basic human needs…  Scruton provokes: …”is the result really art?”

In a way, in the name of skill, taste and creativity, he dismisses much of existentialism and the art made by the avant garde in the last century – or rather he claims, with chilled aplomb, that it has all over time, become “a cult of ugliness.”

At the end of the documentary, Scruton singles out Pergolesi’s truly beautiful “Stabat Mater”  extolling the real virtues of such a simple, direct, and … beautiful work of art. While much of the visual art that Scruton cherishes in the film, is sculpture… traditional, figurative, … sublime, and not a little neo-classical.

(Thanks to Guus Jooss for sending this in!)

Previously on Art is Life:

Robert Hughes: on the Business of Art… and on Hype … “isn’t it a miracle how much money and so little ability can produce?”

Robert Hughes, “the greatest art critic of our time” … on Pop Art and Andy Warhol

The Canons of Beauty in the history of art – the Golden Mean

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