Beauty

An unusual start to the day in that I was asked to chair a discussion organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Design on the subject of Beauty in Public Life.   Luckily, chairing the session meant that I didn’t have to speak about it.   Richard Rogers described how he had not been allowed by senior civil servants ever to use the word beauty and lamented the fact that policy makers and parliamentarians seldom included artists and architects.   Nick Raynsford MP, the chairman of the Parliamentary Group, revealed that he was one of only two MPs who had been to art school and therefore were comfortable about speaking about art in the House of Commons.   Sam Jacob, of the architectural practice FAT (soon to disband after they have provided Britain’s contribution to the Venice Biennale), talked about the experience of designing New Islington in Manchester where they had the temerity to ask the clients what they thought about beauty.   The President of the Royal Academy described how he had had been a closet believer in the concept of beauty throughout his painting career.   The discussion was – perhaps inevitably – inconclusive because the idea of beauty remains philosophically slippery in spite of the good efforts of Alberti and Edmund Burke.   Should it be defined top down by artists and architects, as happened after the second world war, or should it be defined bottom up by engaging the public in the discussion of aesthetics ?   The majority took the latter view, but recognised the difficulties of getting the civil service and politicians to engage with it.

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