there’s often someone around who very quickly closes the discussion down by saying: “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” It’s a phrase with the power to silence.
Once it’s been uttered, trying to keep up a dialogue about the merits or drawbacks of certain visual things can come across as shrill, anti-social or just plain rude.
The things it passes judgement on are obviously simply not in the eye of beholders.
One can’t fairly say: ‘Well I don’t really feel that way about the boiling point of water or the nature of gravity.’ We have to be subservient to the facts science hands down to us.
However, the phrase ‘beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’ is in reality almost always unwarranted and deeply troublesome. For a start, no one really believes in it to its core.
We may well accept that there can be legitimate differences in taste within a reasonable spectrum; but we don’t actually think that tastes are equal.
We’re not here wanting to assert that one musician is better than another; we’re simply pointing to the legitimacy and interest of the debate and to the odd refusal even to start such a discussion in relation to architecture and art.
Our neutral stance on aesthetics seems a symptom more of tentative taste than of any true commitment to relativism.
It means these cash-conscious types don’t have to worry about going to the expense of trying to make anything look good: because no one knows what that is anyway!It meant something like: ‘Stop trying to badger me into submission. I can think and feel as I like.’ But given that the freedom to think and feel as we like is now very well enshrined (indeed, perhaps too well enshrined), we don’t need to stay stuck at the early liberating move.Our day-to-day problem isn’t that we’ll be bossed around by cultural snobs, it’s that the chances of attractive art and architecture taking hold will be lost, because of a culture obsessed by quick profits and a refusal to engage architects and artists in a dialogue about what they’re up to.We know that big things are at stake here – and over time, we’ve come to positions about the right and wrong way of approaching these topics, and are ready to discuss and defend our ideas.We wouldn’t ever say that ‘the treatment of the poor is just a subject best left entirely to the eyes of beholders’ or ‘the best way to raise children is in the eyes of beholders,’ or ‘the future of the environment is in the eyes of beholders.’ We accept that there are dangers to arguing in aggressive and unfruitful ways; but we are confident that there are sensible and polite ways to advance through these tricky yet vital debates. Partly, our reluctance to engage in aesthetic debate seems a symptom of a lack of confidence about our own tastes.