Is an appreciation of beauty something we are born with, or something we are taught? This is the question with which I begin my first blog post. My friend, the late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, had much to say on the subject (and I am not going to try and emulate him). Of course, like all nature vs nurture debates, the answer is both. But it also varies from person to person.
Since I was a small boy, I have been beguiled by beauty. Art, architecture, gardens and music fascinated and enchanted me. My parents were both school teachers, but they had no particular interest in the arts. We visited the occasional National Trust property, but rarely entered the house. We seldom went to galleries and never went to concerts. I can think of nothing in my upbringing that should cause me to have an eye for beauty.
Yet here I am. An architectural historian with a zeal for country houses and art reviews published in Country Life and The Oldie. I well remember waiting with anticipation for my weekly pocket money so that I could spend it on Country Life. In my teenage years, when other boys were buying FHM or Top Gear Magazine I was buying House & Garden and creating mood boards of country houses. My parents couldn’t understand me. My friends thought I was a total fruitcake. But for me, wherever I went I would either see beauty or a lack of it. It was intrinsic. And it affected my emotions; the harshness of brutalism could trigger anxiety, whilst the order of classicism could calm me.
There is no doubt to me that – if not a longing then certainly a sense – of beauty is innate to all of us. I know this because there is objectivity when it comes to beauty. Whatever the post-enlightenment scholars might say about beauty being subjective, no one will deny that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Monet’s Water Lilies or Beethoven’s 5th are beautiful. Everyone appreciates their beauty. They are objectively beautiful.
So what is the point of this blog? And what does it have to do with beauty, innate or otherwise? Sure, there are loads of other blogs out there about beautiful country houses and architecture. This isn’t going to be another one. The purpose of this blog is to feed our human hunger for beauty. Yes, I will feature my work – I will write posts about country houses and architectural history. But I will also write about music, art and gardens. And of course I will write about beauty in general; the philosophy of it and our desperate human need for it. Because in these strange and isolating times, during the Coronavirus crisis and beyond it, we all need a bit of beauty in our lives to give us hope and confidence in humanity and the world.