Beauty is instantly recognizable. What is a little more difficult is to pin down exactly what beauty is. Even is you missed the debate regarding Theodore Dalrymple’s Beauty and the Best, you still have a chance to get into the latest aesthetic theories by checking out the prolific writer and philosopher Roger Scruton in a book entitled, properly, Beauty.
Beauty as Scruton means it is of a specifically mental rather than visceral nature. Along with Sebastian Smee of The Guardian, I rather think Scruton does an injustice when he relegates beauty to an act of rational contemplation. Like every other book on beauty, it deals with whether we can make value judgements about art, i.e. can something be better or more beautiful, than another. He also considers whether art can be moral, rather an old-fashioned question but then so is the question of beauty.
What kills me about books like this is they tackle a huge and general subject, and then meander bombastically about for 100 pages. Dalrymple’s article made his argument precisely, even without him repositing Kant.
The best primer for any discussion of beauty, as far as I’m concerned, remains Umberto Eco’s On Beauty, which, with it’s thickly illustrated pages, is a thing of beauty itself. Scruton either ripped off Eco’s jacket cover, or Renaissance woman remain the ideal of beauty…