Monday, June 13, 2011

BEAUTY (2009) - by Roger Scruton (book review)

The Old-Fashioned Outdated Unfashionable Classical Viewpoint

Art: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance

- Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, 2001, Random House, Inc.

Art: skilled human creativity that reflects God's truth or God's beauty

- Jeff Baldwin, Research Director for Worldview Academy, former Humanities Chair for Providence Classical School

"All art is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." We've heard it all before. And the proposition that art is subjective is the majority viewpoint. You ask almost anyone and they will tell you. You ask one of a majority of art professors in any given university, and he or she will tell you that art is just self-expression of an artist that can be interpreted however the viewer desires. Everyone has their own opinion and their own tastes. Who's to say whose personal tastes are better or superior to another's?

And now, here comes along philosopher Roger Scruton to argue the minority viewpoint. In his book, Beauty , he makes the reasoned argument that there must be objective standards for art and beauty. Art is not subjective, according to Scruton, because we have objective principles with which to measure it by. One of these is beauty. But beauty, and its appreciation, is something we are losing our sense for in modern day culture.

Roger Scruton is always enjoyable and provocative to read. He's a philosopher and prodigious writer. His bibliography to date consists of over 40 books, among which include
I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine ,
Understanding Music ,
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy ,
Sexual Desire ,
On Hunting ,
and The Aesthetics of Architecture .
Every single book of his that I've read has been engaging and full of a large number of unusual conversation starters (which often, as Scruton will tell you, go quite well with a glass of good wine).

So how does one begin the argument that art is not subjective but objective? Scruton begins his argument by asking a few questions -

pg. ix -
"If there are people who are indifferent to beauty, then it is surely because they do not perceive it. Yet judgements of beauty concern matters of taste, and maybe taste has no rational foundation. If so, how do we explain the exalted place of beauty in our lives, and why should we lament the fact - if fact it is - that beauty is vanishing from our world? ... Moreover, since it is the nature of tastes to differ, how can a standard erected by one person's taste be used to cast judgement on another's? How, for example, can we pretend that one type of music is superior or inferior to another when comparative judgements merely reflect the taste of the one who makes them?"

Well, if all art is subjective, then so is beauty. If beauty is subjective, then there is no reason for beauty to have any exalted place in our lives. To say that beauty is disappearing from our modern culture would be laughable then. Time spent listening to the dialogue of cartoon characters in a video game is not less or more valuable than time spent listening to dialogue written by Shakespeare. Thus, no standard can be set up to ever say one person's tastes of better than another person's tastes. We can never say one type of music is inferior to another type. We can never say that a painting, by an artist who has spent 50 years studying and perfecting his skill as a painter, is any better than the painting of a 5-year-old. These are the logical conclusions of claiming that art is subjective.

So doesn't everyone get to decide what they think is and isn't beautiful. The Grand Canyon? Nah. I can personally decide that I think a shopping mall is more appealing to the eye. The seascapes of J.M.W. Turner? Nah. I can decide that I prefer the motion-capture films of Robert Zemeckis. I decide what I want to look at because I get to do whatever is most pleasing for me, myself and I. Scruton doesn't buy this narcissistic view of our mass-consumer culture. Instead, he argues -

pg. 2 -
"There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian theological thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value - something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justifiy our rational inclinations. Why believe p? Because it is true. Why want x? Because it is good. Why look at y? Because it is beautiful."

Again, remember, this is the minority view today. But, it has historical backing by a large number of heavyweight thinkers. Basically, the idea is that there are things that are really and truly beautiful, whether I, with my own limited experience and desires, recognize it as beautiful or not. Beauty is something you discover and learn about, not something you get to define for your own little purposes. Beauty is something outside yourself that can affect and change you once you're exposed to it. Experiencing something beautiful causes you to think about things in ways you never have before. Truth, goodness and beauty are all objective values to be pursued and desired. I think I also prefer this minority view. But even if I prefer it to the more narcissistic one, before I read this book, I still needed to be convinced. Luckily, convincing you over to his side is the very purpose of the book. Scruton continues -

pgs. 5-6 -
"It would help to define our subject, therefore, if we were to begin a list of comparable platitudes about beauty, against which our theories might be tested. Here are six of them:
(i) Beauty pleases us.
(ii) One thing can be more beautiful than another.
(iii) Beauty is always a reason for attending to the thing that possesses it.

(iv) Beauty is the subject-matter of a judgement: the judgement of taste.
(v) The judgement of taste is about the beautiful object, not about the subject's state of mind. In describing an object as beautiful, I am describing it, not me.
(vi) Nevertheless, there are no second-hand judgements of beauty. There is no way that you can argue me into a judgement that I have not made for myself, nor can I become an expert in beauty, simply by studying what others have said about beautiful objects, and without experiencing and judging for myself."

So, first of all, ask yourself if you see anything here you disagree with. (i)'s alright. He has more explaining to do with (ii). (iii) seems self-evident. Looks like we're starting to get somewhere with (iv). Taste is a judgment that we make or a preference that we impose. In other words, beauty is a quality about which we make judgments. There can obviously be different kinds of beauty, so that would be where personal tastes and judgments come in. (v) seems pretty important to Scruton's argument. Objectively, beauty is an inherent characteristic of an outside person, place or thing. It is not my own little state of mind. (vi) looks like it can be used to temper this sort of thing going to extremes. You can never know that something or someone is beautiful without seeing and experiencing it yourself. Simply reading about it, without experiencing it, makes it only a figment of your imagination.

pg. 32 -
"When I describe something as beautiful I am describing it, not my feelings towards it - I am making a claim, and that seems to imply that others, if they see things aright, would agree with me. Moreover, the description of something as beautiful has the character of a judgement, a verdict, and one for which I can reasonably be asked for a justification. I may not be able to give any cogent reasons for my judgement; but if I cannot, that is a fact about me, not about the judgement."

I want to say something here for a bit about being a snob. A snob is generally defined as "a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field" . Scruton is not trying to be condescending here, and you are allowed to follow his line of reasoning without disdainfully looking down your nose at the tastes of others. The fine arts or the "high life" is not something only for the genteel upper classes. It is, as Scruton is arguing, a pursuit to be engaged in by anyone.

This argument is one that can only be made if you hold to the idea that there are certain universal truths out there that apply to everyone in the history of the planet. There are certain universals that apply to every man, woman and child. Beauty is one of these. A beautiful work of art that captures some universal truth or feeling that can move the hearts of anyone - that is something to be highly valued. And you don't have to be a snobbish art critic to value it, most snobbish art critics would tell you all art is subjective anyway. I actually think Scruton is taking the more accessible view. Under the idea that there are objective and universal standards in art, and its ability to reveal beauty to us, this means anyone at all who pursues it will grow as a human being. Yes, we all have our own personal tastes, but -

pgs. 58-59 -
"Kant followed Shaftesbury in supposing that taste is common to all human beings, a faculty rooted in the very capacity for reasoning that distinguishes us from the rest of nature. All rational beings, he relieved, have the capacity to make aesthetic judgements; and in a life properly lived taste is a central component. However, many people seem to live in an aesthetic vacuum, filling their days with utilitarian calculations, and with no sense that they are missing out on the higher life."

Remember, the "higher life" can include the process of the improving of your taste, and anyone can improve their personal tastes.

pg. 63 -
"If we cannot justify the very concept of the aesthetic, except as ideology, then aesthetic judgement is without philosophical foundation. An 'ideology' is adopted for its social or political utility, rather than its truth. And to show that some concept - holiness, justice, beauty, or whatever - is ideological, is to undermine its claim to objectivity. It is to suggest that there is no such thing as holiness, justice or beauty, but only the belief in it - a belief that arises under certain social and economic relations and plays a part in cementing them, but which will vanish as conditions change."

Here, Scruton is arguing against what is known as the Marxist art history. The Marxist tradition (Clement Greenberg, Meyer Schapiro, Arnold Hauser, T.J. Clark) taught that art is directly tied and created by social classes in society. To the Marxist, art is simply a tool in the hands of the elite to make their own economic status seem natural. In other words, the fine arts were ideologically motivated to support the bourgeois power over the proletariat. Historical and cultural conditions thus determine what is beautiful, and art is completely subjective - a tool in the hands of the powerful to lord it over the masses, yadda, yadda, yadda. To the Marxist, even the word "aesthetic" has power struggle undertones, because it denotes a standard created by those in power.

pg. 64 -
"It is true that the word 'aesthetic' came into its present use in the eighteenth century; but its purpose was to denote a human universal. The questions I have been discussing in this book were discussed in other terms by Plato and Aristotle, by the Sanskrit writer Bharata two centuries later, by Confucius in the Analects and by a long tradition of Christian thinkers from Augustine and Boethius, through Aquinas to the present day. The distinctions between means and ends, between instrumental and contemplative attitudes, and between use and meaning are all indispensable to practical reasoning, and associated with no particular social order. And although the vision of nature as an object of contemplation may have achieved special prominence in eighteenth-century Europe, it is by no means unique to that place and time, as we know from Chinese tapestry, Japanese woodcuts, and the poems of the Confucians and of Basho."

Historical periods, different cultures, different places on the globe ... all these things are transcended by a great work of art. Scruton points out that the beauty of God's creation has spoken to and inspired countless people over the ages. After all, the apostle Paul does write in Romans 1 that "what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." So the word aesthetic can refer to an objective standard for beauty. This standard is valuable because beauty is something that man can destroy.

pg. 76 -
"Planning law in Europe has always been sensitive to the threat that buildings pose to natural beauty, and has tried, with limited success, to control the style, size and materials of buildings in the countryside, in order to safeguard our shared aesthetic inheritance."

Beautiful things have value. Objective value. And they can be made less beautiful by man.

Beauty is an objective thing to be experienced that points us in a particular direction. It points towards intent. It points toward design. And it points towards a purpose.

pg. 78 -
"The experience of beauty in art is intimately connected with the sense of artistic intention. And even the experience of natural beauty points in the direction of a 'purposiveness without purpose.' The awareness of purpose, whether in the object or in ourselves, everywhere conditions the judgement of beauty, and when we turn this judgement on the natural world it is hardly surprising if it raises, for us, the root question of theology, namely, what purpose does this beauty serve? And if we say that it serves no purpose but itself, then whose purpose is that? Once again we recognize that the beautiful and the sacred are adjacent in our experience, and that our feelings for the one are constantly spilling over into the territory claimed by the other."

Our culture strongly rejects this point of view.

But isn't it the most logical? To say that someone or something is beautiful is to describe an inherent quality possessed by that person or thing. We aren't talking about appetites here. Satisfying an appetite is not the same as appreciating something that is beautiful. You don't have to consume or devour beauty. It exists, objectively, in and of itself ... almost as if for its own sake. If beauty is objective and describing something as beautiful is making a value judgment, then your own personal taste needs to move in a certain direction. I want my tastes to get better. And, with time and effort, I know they can.

Art therefore has value because of what it can do for and to us. To say something is art is to imply skill, and, to imply at least some level of creative reflection of a universal good. To say everything is or anything can be "art" is to destroy any meaning the word possesses in the English dictionary.

pg. 98 -
"If anything can count as art, what is the point or the merit in achieving that label? All that is left is the curious but unfounded fact that some people look at some things, others look at others. As for the suggestion that there is an enterprise of criticism, which searches for objective value and lasting monuments to the human spirit, this is dismissed out of hand ... The argument is eagerly embraced, because it seems to emancipate people from the burden of culture, telling them that all those venerable masterpieces can be ignored with impunity, that TV soaps are 'as good as' Shakespeare and Radiohead the equal of Brahms, since nothing is better than anything and all claims to aesthetic value are void. The argument therefore chimes with the fashionable forms of cultural relativism, and defines the point from which university courses in aesthetics tend to begin - and as often as not the point at which they end."

Essentially, Scruton is arguing that the modern view renders the very idea of aesthetic value completely meaningless. I have a hard time trying to think of any way in which to disagree with him. How does rendering all art completely subjective and all about the state of mind of your own little self ... how does that have any value at all? It has none. It gives us zero motivation to make any effort to cultivate our taste or appreciation for anything in particular. And it sounds dreadfully dull.

pg. 99 -
"Good taste is as important in aesthetics as it is in humour, and indeed taste is what it is all about. If university courses do not start from that premise, students will finish their studies of art and culture just as ignorant as when they began. When it comes to art, aesthetic judgement concerns what you ought and ought not to like, and (I shall argue) the 'ought' here, even if it is not exactly a moral imperative, has a moral weight."

The state of affairs of the modern world ignores this moral weight.

pg. 100 -
"... people no longer see works of art as objects of judgement or as expressions of the moral life: increasingly many teachers of the humanities agree with their incoming students, that there is no distinction between good and bad taste, but only between your taste and mine."

Scruton doesn't stop here, but next focuses in on what our modern culture does actually care about - entertainment. Growing up in the culture we currently live in, we have all been taught that we need to be entertained. Entertainment is the pursuit of the average American living even at the lowest of subsistence wage levels. But what does this pursuit do to our appreciation of that which is beautiful?

pg. 101 -
"In a striking work published a century ago the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce pointed to a radical distinction, as he saw it, between art properly so-called, and the pseudo-art designed to entertain, arouse or amuse. The distinction was taken up by Croce's disciple, the English philosopher R.G. Collingwood, who argued as follows. In confronting a true work of art it is not my own reactions that interest me, but the meaning and content of the work. I am being presented with experience, uniquely embodied in this particular sensory form. When seeking entertainment, however, I am not interested in the cause but the effect. Whatever has the right effect on me, and there is no question of judgement - aesthetic or otherwise."

Scruton then fine-tunes this idea to make it a little less extreme -

"The point urged by Croce and Collingwood is exaggerated - why cannot I be interested in a work of art for its meaning, and also be entertained by it? ... Nevertheless they were right to believe that there is a great difference between the artistic treatment of subject-matter and the mere cultivation of effect ...

pg. 102 -
"Since cinema and its offshoots are most at fault among the arts, in pursuing effect at the cost of meaning, it is fitting to give an example of cinematic art from which that fault is absent. There have been few directors as conscious as Ingmar Bergman, of the temptation posed by the camera, and the need to resist it. You could frame a still from a Bergman film - the dream sequences in 'Wild Strawberries,' the Dance of Death in 'The Seventh Seal,' the dinner party in 'The Hour of the Wolf' - and it would sit on your wall like an engraving, resonant, engaging and composed. It was precisely in order to minimize distraction, to ensure that everything on the screen - light, shade, form and allusion, as much as person and character - is making its own contribution to the drama, that Bergman chose to make 'Wild Strawberries' in black and white ..."

Scruton likes the film, Wild Strawberries because it is clearly a work of art designed to make the viewer think about the meaning of the story. It is beautiful to look at and yet, it is not designed to create effects (or to satisfy appetites) in the viewer. Its beauty is simply part of what gives the film its meaning in the first place. To help explain the difference between the two, Scruton distinguishes between the terms fantasy and imagination.


pg. 105 -
"Modern society abounds in fantasy objects, since the realistic image, in photograph, cinema and TV screen, offers surrogate fulfillment to our forbidden desires, thereby permitting them. A fantasy desire seeks neither a literary description, not a delicate painting of its object, but a simulacrum - an image from which all veils of hesitation have been torn away. It eschews style and convention, since these impede the building of the surrogate, and subject it to judgement. The ideal fantasy is perfectly realized, and perfectly unreal - an imaginary object that leaves nothing to the imagination. Advertisements trade in such objects, and they float in the background of modern life, tempting us constantly to realize our dreams, rather than pursue realities."

In other words, our consumerist culture encourages a life of fantasy. Not fairy tale fantasy, but of fake, virtual, vicarious, and immediate satisfaction of the appetites. Things, of value in and of themselves, cease to have any value at all other than their fitness for immediate consumption. We'll develop this idea a little further in a bit.


pg. 105 -
"Imagined scenes, by contrast, are not realized but represented; they come to us soaked in thought, and in no sense are they surrogates, standing in place of the unobtainable. On the contrary, they are deliberately placed at a distance, in a world of their own."

Art and beauty appeals to your imagination. Your imagination allows you to consider persons, places and things as possessing inherent value all their own. Pausing to reflect and learn from something that is virtuous or beautiful can affect who you are, what motivates your decisions, and how you cultivate your personal tastes. If I imagine something, I take the time to reflect upon it and this can affect how I act later. If I fantasize about something, I'm using the fantasy to accomplish a goal to satisfy something in myself, instead of pursuing the real thing outside my own self. Scruton explains -

pg. 127 -
"Some insight is provided by the connection made by Schiller, in his ‘Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man,’ between art and play. Art, he suggests, takes us out of our everyday practical concerns, by providing us with objects, characters, scenes and actions with which we can play, and which we can enjoy for what they are, rather than what they do for us."

pg. 128 -
"... this ludic attitude is fulfilled by beauty, and by the kind of orderliness which retains our interest and prompts us to search for deeper significance of the sensory world. Hence, as soon as we are engaged in generating and appreciating objects as ends in themselves, rather than as means to our desires and purposes, we demand that those objects be ordered and meaningful. This ‘blessed rage for order’ is present in the very first impulse of artistic creation: and the impetus to impose order and meaning on human life, through the experience of something delightful, is the underlying motive of art in all its forms."

Simply satisfying the physical appetites does not provide us with any meaning for our lives. Animals do the same. But since we are rational creatures, there is no reason why pleasure and intellect cannot join together. Finding meaning in that which is pleasurable to us opens doors that can only be opened by a thinking person. Meaning is what gives the pleasures in our life all the more power. This is a theme throughout Scruton's argument -

pg. 110 -
"We want to say that works of art are meaningful - they are not just interesting forms in which we take an unexplained delight. They are acts of communication, which present us with a meaning; and this meaning must be understood."

pg. 117 -
"Art moves us because it is beautiful, and it is beautiful in part because it means something. I can be meaningful without being beautiful; but to be beautiful is must be meaningful."

pgs. 110-111 -
"Some works have changed the way we see the world - Goethe’s ‘Faust,’ for example. Beethoven’s late quartets, Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ Vergil’s ‘Aeneid,’ Michelangelo’s ‘Moses,’ the Psalms of David and the Book of Job. For people who don’t know those works of art the world is a different - and maybe a less interesting - place."

So how does this relate back to our own personal tastes? Can't we make up whatever meaning we want a work of art to have? Can't we choose to find our own meaning in whatever we want to? Can't we all just be free to have our own personal preferences in music, paintings, sculptures, films, furniture, architecture, books, TV shows, and any other form of occupying our leisure time? We could if art and beauty are merely subjective. But, that is not the world we live in.

pg. 133 -
"In a democratic culture people are inclined to believe that it is presumptuous to claim to have better taste than your neighbor. By doing so you are implicitly denying his right to be the thing that he is. You like Bach, she likes U2; you like Leonardo, he likes Mucha; she likes Jane Austen, you like Danielle Steele. Each of you exists in his own enclosed aesthetic world, and so long as neither harms the other, and each says good morning over the fence, there is nothing further to be said."

In case you missed it, Scruton has a certain genius to his argument right here. Our modern day culture does not believe anyone's personal tastes can be better than anyone else's. Why? Because there would be something wrong with one individual or group imposing its own tastes upon others. The appeal here is to an allegedly moral value within our community.

pgs. 133-134 -
"It is part of our rational nature to strive for a community of judgement, a shared conception of value, since that is what reason and the moral life require. And this desire for a reasoned consensus spills over into the sense of beauty. This we discover as soon as we take into account the public impact of private tastes. Your neighbor fills her garden with kitsch mermaids and Disneyland gnomes, polluting the view from your window; she designs her house in a ludicrous Costa Brava style, in loud primary colours that utterly ruin the tranquil atmosphere of the street, and so on. Now her taste has ceased to be a private matter and inflicted itself on the public realm."

So, before we get to objective standards, you at least have to admit there are certain communal standards of aesthetic taste within particular societies and cultures. If your neighbor suddenly paints his house neon pink and fills his front yard with 101 plastic flamingos, he has just violated that standard (and lowered the property value of your own house at the same time). Thus, we can't help but occasionally argue about aesthetic taste.

pg. 137 -
"We are in deep water here. But it is worth meditating on what actually happens, when you argue about matters of aesthetic taste."

What happens when you argue about this? You find yourself appealing to a standard. Even if that "standard" is what you believe to be merely the transient standard of your own time and culture. In any society, there is still such a thing as good and bad taste. But, cultural standards are not objective standards.

pg. 141 -
"... taste is rooted in a broader cultural context, and cultures (at least in the sense we here have in mind) are not universal. The whole point of the concept of culture is to mark out the significant differences between the forms of human life, and the satisfactions that people take from them."

You could even say different cultures appreciate different virtues or aspects of beauty that other surrounding cultures might miss. However ...

pg. 142 -
"... it is important to recognize that cultural variation does not imply the absence of cross-cultural universals. Nor does it imply that those universals, if they exist, are not rooted in our nature, or that they do not feed into our rational interests at a very fundamental level. Symmetry and order, proportion; closure; convention; harmony, and also novelty and excitement: all these seem to have a permanent hold on the human psyche."

If there is such a thing as good and bad taste, and if this standard can be applied to individuals, then there is really no reason why it cannot also be applied to cultures. In fact, there are universal traits shared by every human being - particularly on what it means to be human in the first place. One of the things that, unlike the animals, all mankind shares is basic right and wrong. Moral character is determined by the choices you make. Thus, even though some of us might like to, the personal tastes that we use to make certain choices are not completely divorced from our own moral character. Scruton asks us to think a little about Scottish philosopher, David Hume.

pg. 146 -
"In a celebrated essay Hume tried to shift the focus of the discussion, arguing roughly as follows: taste is a form of preference, and this preference is the premise, not the conclusion of the judgement of beauty. To fix the standard, therefore, we must discover the reliable judge, the one whose taste and discrimination are the best guide ..."

Of course, if you believe in God, this starts getting easier. The Creator of the universe obviously cares about beauty. And He is definitely completely outside our own personal tastes. But this isn't yet an argument for the existence of God, instead -

pg. 147 -
"Hume’s argument suggests that the judgement of taste reflects the character of the one who makes it, and character matters ... In the last analysis there is as much objectivity in our judgements of beauty as there is in our judgements of virtue and vice. Beauty is therefore as firmly rooted in the scheme of things as goodness. It speaks to us, as virtue speaks to us, of human fulfillment: not of things that we want, but of things that we ought to want, because human nature requires them."

Remember what a "taste" is in the first place. It's a conscious preference for one thing over another. In other words, it is a judgment. It is the use of discrimination. "I prefer this, therefore" ... you then make a judgment upon beauty. The argument goes that beauty, like virtue, is objective. And therefore, your personal tastes can themselves get worse or better, depending upon how well they line up with that which is truly and really beautiful and meaningful. But how can Scruton convince us that this is really the case.

In order to explain this distinction he's making, Scruton uses the difference between art and pornography. Pornography objectifies people as objects to be used to satisfy the appetite. Art inspires, even with the portrayal of the nude human form, looking upon persons as subjects in order to find meaning.

pg. 149 -
"Even in the ‘Venus of Urbino’ - that most provocative of Titian’s female nudes - the lady draws our eyes to her face, which tells us that this body is on offer only in the way that the woman herself is on offer, to the lover who can honestly meet her gaze. To all others the body is out of bounds, being the intimate property of the gaze that looks out from it: not a body but an embodiment ... The face individualizes the body, possesses it in the name of freedom, and condemns every covetous glance as a violation. The Titian nude neither provokes nor excites, but retains a detached serenity - the serenity of a person, whose thoughts and desires are not ours but hers."

This painting is beautiful because the artist portrays the woman as a human being with her own personality, will and desires.

pgs. 154-155
"Anne Hollander has written of the extent to which the nude, in our tradition, is not naked but unclothed: it is a body marked by the shapes and materials of its normal covering. In Titian the body is at rest just as it would be if it were protected from our gaze by a veil of clothing: it is a body under invisible clothes. We no more detach it from the face or the personality than we would detach the body of a woman fully dressed. And by painting the body in this way Titian overcomes its eerie quality - its nature as forbidden fruit."

The purpose of the painting is not to titillate, nor is it to objectify the model who posed for the painting. It portrays an ideal of womanhood by painting a real woman. The painting engages the imagination of the viewer (as Scruton has been using the word) instead of providing a mere fantasy object to satisfy a desire. Scruton sees this one point as very important.

"This is erotic art, but in no way concupiscent art: Venus is not being shown to us as a possible object of our own desire. She is being withheld from us, integrated into the personality that quietly looks from those eyes and which is busy with thoughts and desires of its own."

This is to be distinguished from paintings in the figurative style where all the nudes have the same face and same blank facial expression. There are some paintings where the body is, in fact, the object - not the person. This also describes pornography.

pg. 159 -
"Art can be erotic and also beautiful, like a Titian Venus. But it cannot be beautiful and also pornographic - so we believe, at least. And it is important to see why. In distinguishing the erotic and the pornographic we are really distinguishing two kinds of interest: interest in the embodied person and interest in the body - and, in the sense that I intend, these interests are incompatible.

... Pornography, like slavery, is a denial of the human subject, a way of negating the moral demand that free beings must treat each other as ends in themselves ... Pornography addresses a fantasy interest, while erotic art addresses an interest of the imagination. Hence the first is explicit and depersonalized, while the second invites us into the subjectivity of another person and relies on suggestion and allusion rather than explicit display."

pg. 163 -
"The discussion of Titian’s Venus indicates, I think, why pornography lies outside the realm of art, why it is incapable of beauty in itself and desecrates the beauty of people displayed in it. The pornographic image is like a magic wand that turns subjects into objects, people into things - and thereby disenchants them, destroying the source of their beauty."

Art inspires thought and reflection, and, most important of all, a sense of "other." Pornography focuses you on yourself and your own appetites - it is designed to stimulate and satisfy an appetite. These are not only two different interests, as Scruton argues, but they are two entirely different personal tastes. You may even have both of these tastes, but one of them is superior to the other - and one is morally inferior.

pg. 164 -
"The old morality, which told us that selling the body is incompatible with giving the self, touched on a truth. Sexual feeling is not a sensation that can be turned on and off at will: it is a tribute from one self to another and - at its height - an incandescent revelation of what you are. To treat it as a commodity, that can be bought and sold like any other, is to damage both present self and future other. The condemnation of prostitution was not just puritan bigotry; it was a recognition of a profound truth, which is that you and your body are not two things but one, and by selling the body you harden the soul. And that which is true of prostitution is true of pornography too. It is not a tribute to human beauty but a desecration of it."

The use of human beauty as an object to satisfy the appetite is, first of all, impersonal. There is no reason why one won't do as good as another. Second, it derives from a particular moral point of view. It's not that sensory pleasures aren't good and wholesome, it's that the unquestioning indiscriminate use of other things and persons of value in order to merely temporarily satisfy one's desires that affects the state of the soul.

pg. 165 -
"The comparison between pornography and erotic art shows us that taste is rooted in our wider preferences, and that these preferences express and encourage aspects of our own moral character. The case against pornography is the case against the interest that it serves - the interest in seeing people reduced to their bodies, objectified as animals, made thing-like and obscene. This is an interest that many people have; but it is an interest at war with our humanity."


pg. 174 -
"For beauty makes a claim on us: it is a call to renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world."

And this requires time and reflection. It requires thought and meditation. You have to slow down, and consciously discriminate between your options - because there are good tastes and bad tastes that affect who you are as a person. You ought to cultivate those tastes which will improve your character, perception and ability to sympathize with and understand others. Beauty causes and inspires you do do this, if you let it. This is the great value of being able to appreciate objective standards in art.

pg. 185-186 -
"Aesthetic pleasure is focused on the presented aspect of its object, and this tempts people to assimilate it to the pure sensory pleasures, like those of eating and drinking. And a similar temptation bedevils the analysis of sex. There is a kind of sexual interest in which sensory pleasure eclipses the inter-personal intentionality and becomes attached to scenes of generalized and impersonal excitement - an image or tableau, to which the subject responds compulsively. This kind of sexual interest can easily reshape itself as an addiction. The temptation is to suppose that this depersonalized and sensory pleasure is the real goal of sexual desire in all its forms, and that sexual pleasure is a form of subjective pleasure analogous to the pleasures of eating and drinking - a claim explicitly made, for example, by Freud.

pgs. 186-187 -
Addiction arises when the subject has full control over a pleasure and can produce it at will ... Addiction is characterized by a loss of the emotional dynamic that would otherwise govern an outward-directed, cognitively creative life. Sex addiction is no different in this respect from drug addiction; and it wars against true sexual interest - interest in the other, the individual object of desire. Why go to all the trouble of mutual recognition and shared arousal, when this short cut is available to the same sensory goal?

Just as there is sex addiction, arising from the decoupling of sexual pleasure from the inter-personal intentionality of desire, so too is there stimulus addiction - the hunger to be shocked, gripped, stirred in whatever way might take us straight to the goal of excitement - which arises from the decoupling of sensory interest from rational thought. The pathology here is familiar to us, and was interestingly caricatured by Aldous Huxley, in his account of the ‘feelies’ - the panoramic shows in ‘Brave New World’ in which every sense-modality. Maybe the Roman games were similar: short cuts to awe, horror and fear which reinforced the ensuing sense of safety, by prompting the visceral relief that it is not I but another who has been torn to pieces in the ring. And maybe the 5-second cut which is the stock-in-trade of the B movie and the TV advert operates in a similar way - setting up addictive circuits that keep the eyes glued to the screen."

It doesn't have to be sexual. You can be soul crushingly addicted to different forms of entertainment for their own vicarious thrills. This is a choice that reflects moral character. You can make a habit of using things of value - family, friends, time, religion, etc. - only in order to satisfy your own selfish appetites. Beauty asks you to stop and think. Beauty points in the direction of awe and other. Beauty points you to look outside your own petty self.

pg. 187 -
"Addiction, as the psychologists point out, is a function of easy rewards. The addict is someone who presses again and again on the pleasure switch, whose pleasures by-pass thought and judgement to settle in the realm of need."

And we always ask why modern Hollywood films keep making so much money.

Scruton's argument finally confidently rests in what cultivating the pursuit of beauty does for us.

pg. 188 -
"Art, as we have known it, stands on the threshold of the transcendental. It points beyond this world of accidental and disconnected things to another realm, in which human life is endowed with an emotional logic that makes suffering noble and love worthwhile. Nobody who is alert to beauty, therefore, is without the concept of redemption - of a final transcendence of mortal disorder into a ‘kingdom of ends.’"

But only objective standards in art point towards actual redemption of our corrupt and selfish selves. If all art and beauty is merely subjective, then it doesn't point anywhere other than inside you. How incredibly miserable and dull that would be. But in an age of mass-marketed kitsch, following our own personal tastes is precisely what is encouraged. This is philosophically opposed to the classical view on the ability to appreciate real beauty.

pg. 192 -
"For art cannot live in the world of kitsch, which is a world of commodities to be consumed, rather than icons to be revered. True art is an appeal to our higher nature, an attempt to affirm that other kingdom in which moral and spiritual order prevails. Others exist in this realm not as compliant dolls but as spiritual beings, whose claims on us are endless and unavoidable. For us who live in the aftermath of the kitsch epidemic, therefore, art has acquired a new importance ... That is why art matters. Without the conscious pursuit of beauty we risk falling into a world of addictive pleasures and routine desecration, a world in which the worthwhileness of human life is no longer clearly perceivable."

Such is the world Scruton is fighting against. I find his arguments highly persuasive. It's time I start thinking upon and changing my personal tastes accordingly. Not so that they are better than someone else's, but so that they aren't drugging me in a mass-media, instant gratification stupor where I care about is my own self-satisfaction. Our sense of beauty in the world needs some restoration, but that will never happen if we don't change our current personal tastes for the better.

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