June 3, 2013

VANCOUVER – Modern Western society distrusts beauty and is trying to replace it with art that negates our sense of what is beautiful, says a leading British philosopher.

"There has arisen, in our society, a distrust of beauty. We view it as an invitation into realms that have been undermined," Roger Scruton said in a May 5 lecture at Regent College.

Beauty is now seen as sentimental and self-satisfying, Scruton said. As a result, modern artists have produced what he calls ugly and "a rather un-grownup kind of art."

Just as teens defy their parents' rules, artists have defied standards of beauty with "transgressive art" which attempts to pollute or negate our sense of beauty.

"People choose to desecrate things to remind themselves that they were once sacred," he said, referring to the Chapman Brothers who use art to completely twist our concept of the human body into something revolting.

Scruton called this attempt to use desecration to find consolation the "consolation of ugliness." That is, if beauty is unattainable, ugliness is seen by today's artists as a more tolerable option.

However, he said, the new culture of transgression reflects a disappointment in the world, in ourselves, in not being able to find a place in society. By contrast, our universal search for beauty expresses the fact that "we have a need to take part in something greater."

We have a desire to discover that we matter and have a place in society.

We shouldn't give up on beauty because it has a defining purpose in our lives, he said. "It's part of a process of home-building, of reconciliation, of being with others and achieving our identity in the world."