A passage from Roger Scruton's book on Beauty

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, March 30, 2009 , ,

As mentioned before, Tory Historian is reading Roger Scruton’s fascinating little book, called “Beauty”. It is taking longer than expected because there is rather a lot to digest and several passages need to be read over and over. (And also because time in Prague was taken up with meetings.)

In his chapter on “Natural Beauty” he contrasts our understanding of nature and its beauties with that of art, where there is a deliberation in what is seen and presented. Then he adds:

Although true so far as it goes, that observation ignores two vital features of our encounter with the natural world. The first is the role of nature as raw material for visual art. The great landscape gardeners of the eighteenth century, such as William Kent and Capability Brown, were responding to the taste of their patrons. They lived at a time when cultivated people made discrimination between landscapes, argued over what was or was not in good taste, and set out to build, dig, plant and adjust with intentions comparable to that of the painter whom they would later commission to record the outcome.

Indeed, the cult of the ‘picturesque’ arose because our responses to landscape and our responses to painting feed into each other. The eighteenth-century habit of decorating the landscape with ruins began from a love of the Roman Campagna not as it is, but as Poussin and Claude had painted it. Tourists in the eighteenth century would often travel with a ‘Claude Glass’: a small tinted convex mirror, which helped them to appreciate the landscape by compressing and composing it in a manner reminiscent of Claude. And the landscape architects of the day regarded architectural ruins and follies, as well as classical bridges and temples, as continuous with the trees, lakes and artificial mounds of earth which were the raw material of their art.

It is difficult to believe that our attitude to natural beauty is founded completely differently from our attitude to art, when the two are so intimately connected.
It is hard to imagine a view of nature that is not, somehow, influenced by at least some of the great artists whose work one has seen. has seen.


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