Corot, The Shepherd Under the Trees, Setting Sun, 1853
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.
Sir Roger Scruton, from Beauty
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