Beauty: Individual Expression or Shared Convention?

Beauty: Individual Expression or Shared Convention?

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Regina Yunghans
Jan 4, 2010

Is your idea of a beautiful home shared with that of your neighbor's? And vice-versa? Does it matter? In The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty, writer Roger Scruton compares and contrasts aesthetics in America and Europe. And he uses two examples from the home to illustrate:

An excerpt on aesthetic offenses from a neighbor:

"...my neighbor's house, with its kitsch decorations and ghastly illuminated tableaus. These things matter to him; and they matter to me. My desire to get rid of them is as great as his desire to retain them—maybe even greater, given that my taste, unlike his, is deeply rooted in a desire to fit in with my surroundings. So here is one proof that beauty matters—and also that the attempt to coordinate our tastes is vital to sharing our home, our town, and our community."

and an excerpt on aesthetic tradition as upheld at the family dinner table:

"...Consider what happens when you lay the table for a meal. This is not just a utilitarian event. If you treat it as such, the ritual will disintegrate, and the family members will end up grabbing individual portions to eat on their own. The table is laid according to precise rules of symmetry, choosing the right cutlery, the right plates, the right jugs and glasses. Everything is meticulously controlled by aesthetic norms, and those norms convey some of the meaning of family life... Very many ordinary objects on the table have been, as it were, polished by domestic affection. Their edges have been rubbed off, and they speak in subdued, unpretentious tones of belonging. Serving the food is ritualized too, and you witness in the family meal the continuity of manners and aesthetic values."

The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty in its entirety is an interesting read. For us, it bolstered feelings we've had about subjective beauty being a bit arbitrary. The beautiful home is all wrapped up in time-proven forces of tradition, function, comfort and even good manners. Yet the modernist in us also thinks of the home as a place to challenge those constraints and re-establish our own personal meaning of beauty.

Where do you stand? Read the full article and let us know in the comment section below: Is your home a way for you to make your mark with self-expression? Or is it a way to uphold the continuity of your surroundings?

Image: Pete & Sandy's Minimal Farmhouse

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