Category Archives: beauty

The past — get me out of here!

Behind every great man-made work of beauty lies some ugliness

The ages in which the greatest works of Man were created were characterised, writes Dalrymple, by

  • dirt
  • misery
  • smells
  • disease
  • vermin

Anybody transported back to those ages would at once seek asylum

in our hygienic and deodorised world without artistic grandeur. For modern man, comfort is the highest good, and perhaps it always would have been had it been a possibility.

The Leftist desecrators

Selfridges, Birmingham: arguably the ugliest building in the English midlands

Dalrymple points out that people who have been brought up among beauty—natural and man-made—are more likely to value it, whereas Leftists are

likely to see in it only manifestations of past injustice. That is, perhaps, one reason why social democracy, so called, has so little valued the preservation of beauty in the past, or rather has worked so hard to destroy it, for if not everyone can live in beauty, no one shall.

Nothing that has been built under social democracy’s régime

has any æsthetic merit, rather the contrary. Our architecture breathes resentment and spite.

Lost enchantment

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Utamaro, Beauties in the Snow

Dalrymple points out that the work of Japanese printmakers was widely exhibited in Paris in the second half of the 19th century. But after the First World War, Western and Japanese art, he writes,

went in widely divergent directions. Never again did Western artists—at least, those who wanted to be considered serious—express straightforward, unaffected tenderness towards the world and human life.

Western artists seem to have been overcome by

a disenchantment with the world, real or assumed, so that they would have considered a subject like feeding the ducks inherently sentimentalising, trivial, and unworthy of their attention.

By contrast, the Japanese printmakers

continued unselfconsciously to portray and celebrate the beauty of the world.

Only after 1945 did Japanese artists start to fear

direct portrayals of beauty.

Kawase Hasui, Great Buddha at Kamakura

Hasui Kawase, Great Buddha at Kamakura

Hiroshi Yoshida, Misty Day in Nikko

Hiroshi Yoshida, Misty Day in Nikko

All that is necessary for ugliness to prosper is for artists to reject beauty

Our view of the world, writes Dalrymple,

has become so politicised that we think that the unembarrassed celebration of beauty is a sign of insensibility to suffering and that exclusively to focus on the world’s deformations, its horrors, is in itself a sign of compassion.

Lenin, Dalrymple reminds us, abjured music, to which he was sensitive, because it made him feel well-disposed to the people around him, and he thought it would be necessary to kill so many of them.

Lenin, Dalrymple reminds us, abjured music, to which he was sensitive, because it made him feel well-disposed to the people around him, and he thought it would be necessary to kill so many of them

Integrity in art

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.10.30L.S. Lowry, Dalrymple explains,

ploughed his own artistic field for years, decades, before he achieved recognition: and when such recognition came, it did not change his simple mode of life. He had a day job until his retirement at the age of sixty-five of a most unromantic and unartistic kind: he worked as a rent-collector for a property company in the days when tenants of tiny workers’ houses paid their rent weekly and in cash. He painted between collecting rents.

Lowry saw

in the bleak townscapes of the Industrial Revolution, and in the inhabitants of those townscapes, a subject worthy of artistic representation, as nobody had before: finding a beauty in them without in the least prettifying them, or without resort to sentimentality.

The Tate Gallery had a fine collection of Lowry’s work, but

for long refused to display any of it, mainly from a kind of snobbery. Lowry was utterly a provincial, he was allied to and influenced by no current of modern art, theoretical or practical, and (in the end) he was widely loved by people who otherwise had no artistic tastes. He was original in an original way. For a certain kind of æsthete, for whom the main attraction of the appreciation of beauty is to mark him off from the philistines, Lowry was all wrong.

Even worse,

Lowry did not care what anyone thought: he did what inner necessity dictated.

Ancoats Hospital Outpatients' Hall, 1952. Whitworth Art Gallery, ManchesterAncoats Hospital Outpatients’ Hall, 1952. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

 

Fuck off, humanity!

Tours Nuages, Nanterre. Emile Aillaud, 1977

Tours Nuages, Nanterre. Emile Aillaud, 1977

This is the message, writes Dalrymple, of modern French architects. Their work, he points out, is

some of the worst in the world.

Perhaps, he says,

the rejection of beauty as a goal by French architects accounts in part for the adoption as a style by so many of the young French of deliberate ugliness and self-mutilation. In a world of brutal ugliness over which you have no control, you might as well admit defeat and join in.

He notes that while the worst of modern culture originates in England, it has in the rest of Europe

spread rapidly.

Until all can live in beauty, none shall

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 08.57.13Finding himself in

one of those ugly cities, formerly industrial, in which England abounds to an extent unknown in any other Western country,

Dalrymple discovers that one of the town’s gracious quarters, full of early-19th-century houses built for the nascent industrial bourgeoisie, has been ruined by the construction of ‘social housing’ in the midst of it. The purpose of the construction is plainly

to destroy the beauty in which so small a proportion of the population lived, since there were many other places in which the social housing, a battery farm for social pathology, could have been built.

Justice,

by which is meant equality of outcome, demands the universal spread of grunginess, the destruction of all outward forms of distinction.

Ugliness, be thou my beauty

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 09.05.43The squalor and degradation that is Western popular culture

Two windows on the sordor:

  • obituaries of pop stars in the newspaper
  • a walk in the street

Pop stars, writes Dalrymple, fall into two groups:

  1. those who retire into the life of the squirearchy, the pleasures of whose kind of life they have done so much to destroy for others
  2. those who die young

There is nothing like the sordid for getting ahead

Romantics view self-destructive behaviour

as the sign of a great soul.

De Quincey wrote:

Pain driven to agony, or grief driven to frenzy, is essential to the ventilation of profound natures.

But, Dalrymple points out,

it is an elementary error of logic to suppose that, because profound natures ventilate agonised frenzy, those who ventilate agonised frenzy have profound natures.

Take punk. Its ‘ethic’ consists, explains Dalrymple, of

an utterly conformist non-conformity and an insensate individualism without individuality, allied to brutal and deliberate bad taste.

Self-harm

For instance,

to inflict a serious injury on yourself (which you then require others to repair for you, at their expense) in order to prove that you are genuinely committed to bad taste, ugliness, a rejection of everything that could possibly make life worth living, and to a celebration of ‘alienation, boredom and despair’ does not seem to me to be meritorious in any way. The alienation, boredom and despair are the consequence of a combination of laziness and impatient ambition, rather than the consequence of an ‘objective’ situation, and represent an impossible demand for achievement without concomitant effort.

Rage

Dalrymple says:

I feel a certain rage at the culture that we have created, and a certain guilt that I have not fought against it with all my heart and soul, to the best of my ability. It is a culture that can produce lines — and mean them, that is what is terrible — such as the following from one of Richey Edwards‘ songs (as Mozart took dictation from God, so he took dictation from the Zeitgeist):

I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt.

We dare not protest at ugliness

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 09.51.33Social democracy has been disastrous for art and architecture

Dalrymple points to a fact that only an adolescent, a fool or a madman would contest, that the artistic production of

mediæval and renaissance Florence (with a population a seventh of that of Akron or a quarter of that of Croydon) is of greater value than that of the whole of the western world (with a population 7,000 times greater) for the last seventy years.

We social democrats, Dalrymple writes,

fear beauty and scarcely dare protest at ugliness. Since beauty is often and so obviously the product of unjust societies, we are afraid of it. Beauty is tainted by injustice; and since nowadays we value justice, fairness and equality above all things, and make them the touchstone of value, beauty makes us uneasy.

Replying in a public forum to an art critic of a British newspaper who extolled London as an art capital, Dalrymple gently pointed out that London’s entire contemporary output

was not worth one picture by Memling, and what’s more was never going to be.

Dalrymple told this critic that if London was really (which it is plainly not) an art capital city compared with all the others,

that only went to show how artistically impoverished the world had become.

In such an environment, one of near-circumambient modern ugliness, what is our artistic task? It is, writes Dalrymple, as far as we can

to preserve remnants.

Das Jüngste Gericht (detail), attr. Hans Memling, 1467-71, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku

Attr. Hans Memling, Das Jüngste Gericht (detail), 1467-71, Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku

Il Duomo di Firenze: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, 1296-1436, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, dome by Filippo Brunelleschi

Il Duomo di Firenze: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, 1296-1436, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, dome by Filippo Brunelleschi

All this beauty at our expense

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Vulgar Viktor: Dalrymple draws attention to the taste exhibited at one of the Ukrainian ex-president’s palaces. ‘Say what you will about Europe’s old aristocracies, of the economic and social injustices upon which their hegemony rested, but no one can gainsay that they left cultural monuments of value sub specie aeternitatis. Even the Victorian industrialists did far better than Yanukovych.’ Dalrymple points out that it is the luxury and not the taste of Yanukovych’s living quarters that outrages the Ukrainians, ‘for if by any chance they had come into money they would have done the same, aesthetically. When it came to taste, Yanukovych was a man of the people’. One horrified Ukrainian citizen, touring the mansion, exclaimed, ‘All this beauty at our expense!’