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Why Beauty Matters Documentary: Standardised Degradation of Modern Art

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Roger Scruton’s documentary “Why Beauty Matters” evaluates post-modernist art culture through a perspective that assumes art has become a sort of “standardised degradation”. It can be assumed Scruton believes postmodernism is a ‘cult of ugliness’; arguing the importance of transcendental nature of beauty. Despite these works having a profound contextual and situational impact, Scruton struggles to adhere from the ideas that they promote alienation, arrogance and have become ‘soulless’ and ‘sterile’. This pattern established by Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, was originally created to mock art, and the pretentiousness associated with it, although it was interpreted by some that anything can be art, leading to the assumption that there was ‘no longer a need from skill, taste, or creativity’.

Although some may argue with Scruton’s opinions and ideas. The art he describes as arrogant and lacking creativity stems from an idea to provoke a conversation, become aware of its intentions and captivate the imagination; where the subject matter is being ‘beautiful’ not the substance, similar to Duchamp and Michael Craig-Martin. Scruton describes modern architecture as ‘crime’ when utility replaced beauty. American architect Louis Sullivan expressed “form follows function” which is heavily seen in our modern society as there is no need for extravagant flourishes on Victorian style buildings, which in the 21st century appears to be wasteful in a modern perspective. Scruton states that no one wants to live in a home that is ugly, and that “life comes from a building”. Life can be brought to the building, whether it be 1960s modern architecture or a Victorian style; it is what you put inside, and the individual that brings it life. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave teaches a lesson to those in the arts’ industry that artists only allows the viewers to see what they want them to see, that there is a standard to what can be perceived and are misled into believing that what they hear and see is the only exists, although there is much more to exist and be perceived. Scruton described Michelangelo’s “David” as beautiful, and a duplicate of it to lack creativity and authenticity. Similar to a sculptural duplicate, printmaking such as linocut or etching is based on the process of duplicating the same image.

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For visual artists, the process of creating multiple of the same prints, and the variety of differences it can create gives a sense of authenticity and creativity. In saying this, this process may have to come from the original artist. In the visual arts discipline, conceptual, installation, sculptural, video, performance, and multimedia works all push the boundaries of traditional art and perhaps lack the beauty and aesthetics one may say is the purpose of art, but more so creating a realisation of the world around us in a modern society and giving more meaning. In modern and conceptual art, there is a lack of a physical medium, but it is replaced by an idea or concept. Sol LeWitt explains that the concept “is the most important aspect of the work” and “conceptual art is only good when the idea is good”. Duchamp’s piece “Fountain” highlights conceptual art to viewers where the medium is presented as the idea, while the urinal itself is the basic reason behind the audience viewing and acknowledging the concept. The physical material of the urinal and the details of it such as the signature “R. Mutt” are insignificant to the concept and the viewer’s acknowledgment of the work. Le Witt state that “the execution is a perfunctory affair”, but the physicality and the urinal itself grasps the viewer to access and helps in the understanding of the idea itself.


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