Vermeer Burger

Wed, Mar 21, 2018

Vermeer and burgers

Vermeer and burgers

I don’t have a very well thought-through aesthetics though I do tend towards the view that, in some sense and to some degree, there are objective standards of beauty. David Deutsch has a very interesting chapter on this in, ‘The Beginning of Infinity’, and he concludes that the argument there cannot be objective aesthetic standards is a relic of empiricism; that there are in fact aesthetic truths.

Deutsch is a physicist. For a philosopher, take Scruton, the UK’s formost authority on the philosophy of beauty. Scruton says the following things are true:

  • beauty pleases us
  • one thing can be more beautiful than another
  • beauty is always a reason for attending to the thing that possesses it
  • beauty is the subject matter of a judgment of taste.
  • the judgment of taste is about the beautiful object, not about the subject’s state of mind
  • there are no second-hand judgments of beauty - a person cannot argue another into such a judgment.
  • the judgment of taste is a genuine judgment, one that is supported by reasons

Scruton is conservative - small c and big C - and you might think his judgement smacks of his politics. But in this, at least, I think he’s right.

He also says:

Much that is said about beauty and its importance in our lives ignores the minimal beauty of an unpretentious street, a nice pair of shoes or a tasteful piece of wrapping paper….” Moreover, “these minimal beauties are far more important to our daily lives…than the great works…”

And talking of the minimally beautiful…Vermeer was an artist who found great beauty in the ordinary. We might consider his scenes of 17th Century Dutch life to be merely charming, partly because of historical distance. But then look at the Vermeer scullery maid juxtaposed with a woman flipping burgers in a van. The Vermeer allows us to see the burger woman in another way. We wouldn’t have noticed the beauty in the mundane if we hadn’t been familiar with the Vermeer.

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