I am certain that in the modern world, at least in this country, we have lost the art of appreciating beautiful things. Imagine if you were sitting in a room and every artefact around you was hand-made with pride and attention to detail. The discerning person may notice the craftsmanship but I think most of us are so accustomed to everything around us being mass-produced, functional and utilitarian that we have stopped looking.
Over the centuries we have scorned beauty and allowed everything to become uglier and uglier. Take houses; it has become almost impossible for anyone to construct an aesthetically decent house, let alone public building which seems incredible if one considers the wonderful architecture designed and created hundreds of years ago without the benefit of modern technology. Architectural historians believe the reason for the decline in beautiful houses is down to industrialisation.”We construct houses almost in the way that we construct cars,” he said; “for ineluctable economic reasons we mass produce them, by means of pre-formed or ready-made units of construction.” It is depressing that nobody makes a fuss though Prince Charles has commented that, planners and architects have consistently ignored the feelings and wishes of the mass of ordinary people in this country.” As time passes though I think fewer and fewer will be bothered as we become accustomed to as Tom Hodgkinson puts it,”the reign of the ugly.”
It is true that the new gods of mass production, cheap labour and profit have killed both quality and beauty. Machine operators cannot produce goods in the same way as a craftsman, beautiful artefacts can really only be created by human hands but we seem to have lost sight of this. We like straight lines and neatness predictability and uniformity. Most of us would no more appreciate a cup of tea served in a hand- thrown mug turned on a local potter’s wheel any more than one served in a 99p ‘Made In China’ mug from Ikea. Any art on display in modern houses seems to be the latest fashionable prints of lilies or tulips which can be bought from any high street retailer.
Economics of course are partly to blame; it may make more sense, for instance, to buy one high quality garment each year than five cheap ones which will be destroyed by the second wash, but we seem to always opt for this latter option-chiefly because we all like a bargain. In the same way, parents buy endless plastic toys for their children rather than the wooden train-sets or rag dolls of old. How did ugly, non-biodegradable plastic, relying on oil for its production become cheaper than wood which is endlessly renewable? It is the mystery of our age.
It would be nice to think that a revival of the Arts and Crafts movement will re-ignite an interest and love of aesthetically pleasing goods but for example when “shabby chic” was all the rage it was hijacked by big companies and Cath Kidston designs were everywhere.This mass production killed the whole concept for me. It is still cheering though when one sees local craft markets thriving. Theodore Dalrymple has a more cynical view in our declining love of beauty. “We live in an age of the convenience of the moment, including or especially financial, when no sacrifice for the sake of aesthetics is deemed to be worth making. We do not build sub specie aeternitatis, because we do not believe in eternity of any kind, spiritual, artistic or cultural. Thus the ugliness of modern Europe is not the same as the ugliness of the past, a manifestation of poverty. It is the ugliness of a society in which people believe in nothing but their standard of living, as measured by their personal convenience and consumption. It is the ugliness of civilisational exhaustion.”