Flat White

Remember beauty

16 June 2019

10:23 AM

16 June 2019

10:23 AM

A kind heart, joyful smile, orchestral harmony, architectural brilliance, the majesty of nature.

Timeless beauty, whatever its form, is the foundation of human fulfilment. It moves our hearts, lifts our spirits, includes and inspires.

Tragically, beauty has been banished from a public square captured by utilitarian moral relativism. Subjectivity – ‘the eye of the beholder’, reigns.

Have we already forgotten the outpouring of grief inspired by the burning Notre Dame just two months ago? There have been few more powerful demonstrations of our intuitive understanding that beauty matters.

Our mood and behaviour are influenced dramatically by surroundings. How much harder to be cheerful, respectful and courteous within an anonymous, grey metropolis, demeaned by a never-ending cycle of litter and graffiti. It is so easy to be worn down by ugliness.

Those separated from tranquillity are less happy and less healthy. Recent research revealed that just 20 minutes spent immersed in nature reduces stress, increasing feelings of wellbeing. Easier said than done for the hundreds of thousands condemned to a concrete box in the sky. A garden was once a staple focal point for family bonding. Today, safe, well-maintained green space is the reserve of the wealthy.

Similarly, brutalist monstrosities dominate the built environment and soulless modernism, erected by politically motivated architects determined in their rejection of classicism, particularity and history. In a moving essay written for Policy Exchange, Syrian architect Marwa Al-Sabouni details how the replacement of traditional Islamic urban planning with zoning based on creed and class facilitated dehumanisation and conflict.

Houses must be more than bricks and mortar. They must be homes, grounded in a sense of place, identity, belonging and community. Fortunately, human-centric design is not an abstract ideal, but achievable reality. Among the 84 per cent% of people who believe that better buildings and public spaces improve quality of life, there is overwhelming agreement that any further construction should be:

  • Relational: Homes that encourage integration, with rich living alongside poor. Gated outposts replaced with doors and windows opening on to walkable, tree-lined streets
  • Diverse: The indistinguishable ubiquity of urban settlements supplanted by vibrant difference. Towns and cities with their own feel, built on the cultural heritage of previous generations and reflective of a unique past. Majestic public buildings which raise the aspirations of all who enter
  • Harmonious: Low-rise architecture rooted in local character, in keeping with historic form, crafted with local materials by local workers.

Not only are Georgian and Victorian homes, affordable mansion blocks and garden city properties extremely popular, they increase in value faster than any other type of real estate. A study by British Land showed that such design could save the UK economy £15.3 billion by 2050.

Whilst the excellent work done by the Duchy of Cornwall and ‘Create Streets’ in the UK shows there are exceptions, the free market is incapable of seriously challenging the existing monopoly of bad practice amongst greedy developers, who must be compelled by the state to build in a manner that will facilitate contentment, bolster social cohesion and improve the health and happiness of millions.

The arts too, on the verge of extinction, strain for renewal. Music has value only so long as it remains distinct from the restless white noise of everyday life, exploring meaningful human experiences – joy and suffering. The orchestra, in which each individual musician and instrument contributes to the whole is the cultural embodiment of Aristotle’s body politic. Contrast this with modern music, much of it little more than a repetitive loop of desensitising appeal to base desires.

Art has been captured by a generation of deceivers, convinced that their stylistically childish, self-indulgent splurge of expression is of infinite financial and moral value. Before the creation of art must come the creation of the artist, themselves sculpted by the virtues of skill, patience and thoughtfulness.

Some of the current cultural hostility towards beauty finds its roots in the noble Protestant aversion to iconism and decadence. However, we need not compromise on the solas of the Reformation to celebrate the value of the arts in personal transformation. The spectacular intricacy and wonder in God’s intelligent design compels us to look up to a world in which we are not the centre. In the words of Aaron Ames: ‘Might it be that Jesus, naked, despised, rejected, abandoned, and humiliated on the Cross, has touched the uttermost depth of the ugliness of this world, and has made it beautiful’?

Pascal warned that ‘Since man has lost the true good, everything can appear equally good to him, even his own destruction’. There is little question that such a fate awaits those who lose sight of life’s romance and imagination.

We must keep our eyes fixed on the sublime, inspired by the knowledge that above the suffocating urgency of mundanity, human existence endures as a mysterious, miraculous drama, played out on the eternal stage of covenant.

David Sergeant is a conservative researcher in the House of Commons

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