AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

13 September 2020

Judgment.


For many artists and critics beauty is a discredited idea. The modernist message, that art must show life as it is, suggests to many people that, if you aim for beauty, you will end up with kitsch. This is a mistake, however. Kitsch tells you how nice you are: it offers easy feelings on the cheap. Beauty tells you to stop thinking about yourself, and to wake up to the world of others. It says, look at this, listen to this, study this - for here is something more important than you. Kitsch is a means to cheap emotion; beauty is an end in itself. We reach beauty through setting our interests aside and letting the world dawn on us. There are many ways of doing this, but art is undeniably the most important, since it presents us with the image of human life - our own life and all that life means to us - and asks us to look on it directly, not for what we can take from it but for what we can give to it. Through beauty art cleans the world of our self-obsession. Our human need for beauty is not something that could lack and still be fulfilled as people. It is a need arising from our moral nature. We can wander through this world, alienated, resentful, full of suspicion and distrust. Or we can find our home here, coming to rest in harmony with others and with ourselves. And the experience of beauty guides us along this second path: it tells us that we are at home in the world, that the world is already ordered in our perceptions as a place fit for the lives of beings like us. That is what we see in Corot’s landscapes, Cézanne’s apples, or Van Gogh’s unlaced boots.

One cure for the pain of desecration is the move towards total PROFANATION: in other words, to wipe out all vestiges of sanctity from the once worshipped object, to make it merely a thing OF the world, and not just a thing IN the world, something that is nothing over and above the substitutes that can at any time replace it.

A university does not exist simply to convey information or expertise. The university is a society in which the student absorbs the graces and accomplishments of a higher form of life. In the university, according to Newman, the pursuit of truth and the active discussion of its meaning are integrated into a wider culture, in which the ideal of the gentleman is acknowledged as the standard. The gentleman does not merely know things; he is receptive to the tone, the meaning, the lived reality of what he knows.

The magical encounter with the Beethoven quartet, the Bach suite, the Brahms symphony, in which your whole being is gripped by melodic and harmonic ideas and taken on a journey through the imaginary space of music - that experience which lies at the heart of our civilisation and which is an incomparable source of joy and consolation to all those who know it - is no longer a universal resource. It has become a private eccentricity, something that a dwindling body of oldies cling to, but which is regarded by many of the young as irrelevant. Increasingly young ears cannot reach out to this enchanted world, and therefore turn away from it. The loss is theirs, but you cannot explain that to them, any more than you can explain the beauty of colours to someone who is congenitally blind.

The belief that there is a difference between good and bad, meaningful and meaningless, profound and vapid, exciting and banal - this belief was once fundamental to musical education. But it offends against political correctness. Today there is only my taste and yours. The suggestion that my taste is better than yours is elitist, an offence against equality. But unless we teach children to judge, to discriminate, to recognise the difference between music of lasting value and mere ephemera, we give up on the task of education. Judgment is the precondition of true enjoyment, and the prelude to understanding art in all its forms.

Sir Roger Scruton

CONNECT

No comments: