5 Feet of Fury

Rick McGinnis: “The last really great polemic on the state of modern art was probably ‘Why Beauty Matters’…”

Rick McGinnis writes:

…an hour-long BBC program hosted by philosopher Roger Scruton almost a decade ago. He begins with a warning:

“I think we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it, we will lose the meaning of life.”

At any point between 1750 and 1930, Scruton asserts, an educated person would have told you that beauty was the point of art, a value as important as truth or goodness. That changed when originality – at all costs – superseded those values, depriving us of the relief from chaos and suffering that beauty in art provided.

Art became, in essence, whatever we said it was, and the ability to shock one of the few remaining yardsticks by which we measured its success. Artists stopped trying to communicate something universal and turned inward, creating work that looks to outsiders – the viewing public, really – like an “elaborately unfunny joke.”

“Discussions of the kind I have been having are dangerous,” says Scruton. “In our democratic culture people think it is threatening to judge another person’s taste.”

He made this statement almost a decade ago. As I write this, serious people, media personalities and politicians – not the same people, it goes without saying – talk about a “right” not to be offended, and art that aspires to the old standards of beauty, truth and goodness is considered retrograde, even kitsch.

Except “originality” has at this point all but vanished as well.

All “art” that I see (hear) now is a “commentary” about some earlier art, “meta” style.