The ethical demands of beauty

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According to Robert Fulford

Manufacturers of movies, TV shows and best-selling novels build empires on the essence of kitsch — an imitation of human feeling wrapped in a thick layer of cuteness.

and

We miss the point if we think that beauty in art or literature or music has finished its job when it provides pleasure. Scruton argues, reasonably, that beauty also makes ethical demands on us. Its existence challenges us to “renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world.”

Kitsch encourages us to dwell on our own satisfactions and anxieties; it tells us to be pleased with what we have always felt and known. It reaches us at the level where we are easiest to please, a level requiring a minimum of mental effort.

Beauty, on the other hand, demands we consider its meaning. It implies a larger world than the one we deal with every day.

and

The moral effect of kitsch may be obscured by sentiment but it’s there. Kitsch, Scruton correctly points out, is a heartless world. It directs emotion away from its proper target towards sugary stereotypes, permitting us to pay passing tribute to love and sorrow without truly feeling them.

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“Beautiful” ceased to be an adjective of praise in the art world decades ago. It’s become the virtue that dares not speak its name. There are now more people writing about art than ever before; what they are not writing about is beauty.

For more on Scruton and beauty, see here.

See also “The kawaii factor“.

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