The National Trust is aiming to get people talking about values in our modern society. To this end they are holding a series of debates, the first of which is to be held at the Royal Geographical Society on March 19th. The motion for debate is:- "Britain has become indifferent to Beauty". Roger Scruton and David Starkey will propose and Germaine Greer and Stephen Bayley will oppose.
Let me say straight away that I consider this to be an elitist point of view and as such I don't really like it. But it is worth thinking about and I have been doing that for the last couple of days. I would suggest that the first thing we need to do is to define what we mean by Beauty.
"A quality pleasing to the sense", says the Dictionary. We all know the quote "Beauty is altogether in the eye of the beholder" - by Lew Wallace (who he?)
The cultural elite would have us believe that John Ruskin invented beauty, that before that date men were not sensitive enough to appreciate it if it hit them on the head; that no-one before Wordworth was moved by a "host of golden daffodils". I would say - they may not have been able to write about it in such poetic terms but that isn't to say they were not moved by the sight.
It is all too easy to make this a "class" issue and to suggest that in order to appreciate beauty you have to be educated to look for it!
We are all "beholders", we will see beauty in some things and not in others. As any teacher will confirm, for every child who stamps on a snail there will be one who will marvel at its helix shell.
I would defy anyone to sit in the Australian outback by Ayers rock and look at the night sky, so far from civilisation, and not be moved by its beauty. Surely Copernicus, when he looked through his telescope was moved by the beauty as well as working out about the world.
There may be some (lager louts on the Costa del Sol spring to mind) for whom beauty is a foreign word but I'll hazard a guess that every one of them would be blown away by the sheer beauty of their first-born child. And, after all, whoever designed the lager tin - and probably got thousands for the design - designed it as a thing of beauty to attract people !
Now we have to think what is meant by "Britain"? Every whole is made up of the sum of its parts - I am one of those parts, I am British - and I am not indifferent to beauty - nor are the people I know. Perhaps if you could do a head count it would be different - but you can't. Is the motion really saying that the people of Britain have become indifferent to Beauty?
If there is one thing which makes one indifferent to beauty I would say it is extreme poverty. I can't imagine Iron Age man, standing with a spear in his hand and a hungry family waiting for food at home, would waste much time marvelling at the beauty of a deer. And I am pretty sure that if one is born, lives and dies on the streets of Calcutta, with all its filth, noise and pollution (I have just met a friend who has recently come back from there - those are her words) one would not waste much time looking for beauty.
Edward Thomas, the poet, in his poem Beauty says that from within the very depths of despair, even at the nadir of existence (a place he visited many times in intense depression) "Beauty is there."
We don't all have his poetic genius. We don't all have the ability to put into words which aspect of beauty moves us. But that does not mean we are indifferent to it.
Have I missed the point? Are we, as a nation, becoming indifferent to beauty? Discuss.