Saturday, December 18, 2010

The moral character of beauty

A question asked by RevSimmy in the comments: "the equation of the aesthetic and the moral - i.e. beautiful art/music has a moral effect. Do we agree? Why (/not)?"

I would say: yes, I have no doubt that beauty has an effect on character, partly from watching this programme recently (and I've purchased the book, but haven't read it yet).

Of course, this is a complicated proposal. I happen to think that the Weeping Woman of Picasso is also tremendously beneficial to character - but I'm not sure I would count it as beautiful, even though I could (and have) spent ages contemplating it.

I feel on stronger ground when thinking about architecture - I think the living environment affects how we live, both directly and indirectly.

And of course music....

What do people think?

Scruton's programme is available on Youtube, part 1 here:


  1. Doesn't it follow from the doctrine of divine simplicity, that in God beauty and good (and truth) are just our different names for the same (non-)thing?

  2. Scott - yes - but how we cash that out in practice is the interesting question from my point of view.

  3. Looking forward to following up on the roger Sruton videos. Thanks.

  4. It implies that if we reflexively judge something as beautiful but immoral, or as moral but ugly, then we need to reflect on our reflexes.

  5. What is beauty? Is it only in the eye of the beholder?

    Sometimes collective ideas of beauty are iniquitous, as with ’size zero’ in the fashion industry and the way in which that perception of beauty pressurises people into anorexia and bulimia.

    One of the fascinating things about contemporary art is the way in which it often finds beauty in the throw-away, the ready-made, the hidden or disregarded e.g. Martin Creed’s Work No. 88 - a crumpled ball of paper. In a culture of detritus, “American Beauty” screenwriter Alan Ball uncovers heartbreaking beauty in garbage with a scene in which a crummy old plastic bag floats in the wind above a dirty sidewalk.

    My friend, Alan Stewart, in his ‘Icons or Eyesores’ presentation on spirituality in contemporary art shows people a photo of a sepia-tinged crucifix. Most people quite like it until they are told that it is ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano and that the crucifix is submerged in the artist’s urine. Serrano has said that the image is about the commercialisation of religious iconography (a critique of Christian kitsch!) but Alan sees it as a depiction of the incarnation, with God coming into the detritus and waste of human life, and that, it seems to me, is profoundly beautiful.

  6. Roger of course epitomizes the deadly psychotic split in the heart and Consciousness of Western man.

    On the one hand he writes about very eloquently about Beauty.

    On the other hand he openly associates with the ugliest manifestations of Western culture, notably the right-wing think-tanks that are effectively propaganda outlets for the merchants of death, or the now world dominant military-industrial-"entertainment" complex.


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