Cities, Virtue, and Corruption

A trio of reads to share with you this Eclipse Monday. (Can’t you tell how cheery they are from the post title?)

Whatever this cost...

Masonic Temple of Springfield, Ohio.

First, a review of the new book Rethinking Modernism and the Built Environment, a collection of essays edited by Almantas Samalavicius. As you likely know, I’m not a fan of modern architecture, and in fact would consider myself an enemy of its inhumanity.

As Samalavicius sees it, the challenges cities face are not only “unprecedented levels of urbanity,” but the homogenizing effects of “economic globalism” and how they have reduced or erased local and cultural diversity. Moreover, this is not a new, 21st-century phenomenon.The large-scale reconstruction of Europe after World War II, he says, “demanded cheap and functional buildings, and that was what architectural Modernism seemed to be able to offer.”

…as summed up by Nikos Salingaros, author of Principles of Urban Structureis that “By removing urban complexity, the simplistic Modernist model has destroyed our cities.”

A brief review, but worth reading. If you’d like another (less pricey) read along the same lines, Thomas Wolfe’s From Bauhaus To Our Haus is quite worthwhile indeed.

Architecture influences those living around and within it, and our own hearts, of course, influence architecture (as it is out of human hearts that building designs spring). So I can’t help but see this excellent Daniel Greenfield piece, Virtue and the Moral Fall of Civilization, as related to the modern state—and small, if increasing rebellion against—of architecture.

A civilization is not a mechanical endeavor, but a moral one. The virtues that uphold a civilization, the ability to reason, to work hard, to study how to solve a problem, to sacrifice now for future gain, to cooperate with those outside the tribe, to value truth, beauty and goodness for their own sake are individual, but they are also social. A society that cultivates these virtues in people can prosper. As society loses these virtues, it grows dysfunctional. It loses winnable wars, it squanders vast wealth, it loses its work ethics, its ability to cooperate and to plan for the long term. It slowly dies.

Barbarians are not savages because they wear loincloths or bones through their noses, or even because they lack the majority of these virtues, but because they lack the ability to appreciate them. A barbarian who appreciates civilizational virtues can become civilized, but a civilized barbarian may wear a suit and tie, but is still a savage because he cannot even appreciate the virtues of his ancestors.

As a civilization declines, it becomes barbaric.

Continue reading


Why Beauty Matters

Roger Scruton is one of the more brilliant men of our age, one who thinks deeply about our culture and its effects upon us. One of the things he often considers is the state of art, something I’ve publicly pondered here from time to time (because I can’t help it, and because if you don’t care, I don’t know about it!). Someone sent me a documentary featuring Mr. Scruton discussing the very same thing; he considers the art of the past and present, speaks to artists, and even looks at the physical world in which we live, something else that’s important to me. In short, we live in a world where the cult of ugliness reigns. Why is this? Is it a normal human response to dislike it? And what, if anything, can be done?

This is a marvellous documentary, as one should expect from one of the most thoughtful people alive today; to be honest, I found myself wishing it were longer!


Beauty, real life, and ideas

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Temptation (1880)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Temptation (1880)

While accepting a Bradley Prize this year, critic, writer, and self-described aesthete Terry Teachout shared some thoughts worth of consideration in his acceptance speech. I read this some time last week and have been mulling over it ever since, so thought to share it, hoping for your own thoughts (again, the entire essay may be read here).

After noting that the Taliban Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice banned “any equipment that produces the joy of music”, for instance, he writes

…America, too, has its share of earnest, well-meaning, narrow-minded folk who don’t much care for art. Not that this should surprise anyone. Ours, after all, is a can-do, no-frills culture shaped by the frontier experience and the Protestant work ethic, and even in this Age of Leisure, the notion that a person might want to look at a Balanchine ballet or a Cézanne watercolor purely because it makes him happy is alien to many Americans. It’s not enough that art should please us: We want it to improve us, to make us smarter and richer, and maybe even thinner.

Continue reading

Ivan Aivazovsky


American Shipping off the Rock of Gibraltar. Ivan Aivazovsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned last week, I have recently found myself rather absorbed in looking at old paintings. The work of Russian painters is, it turns out, some of my favourite work, and one of the artists in particular—Ivan Aivazovsky—really impressed me with his skill.

Aivasovsky Ivan Constantinovich storm 1886 IBI

Storm. Ivan Aivazovsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, Aivazovsky’s favourite subject matter, the sea, does not hurt—I like to think that my grandfather being a Navy man and lifelong boater is part of the reason for my predilection toward such works, and I did spend much of last fall and winter zipping through C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series (which is very good reading). I do think that artwork featuring the sea always fascinates, though, because it’s always moving, always alive and awake, even beneath a seemingly still surface. Moreover, the power of the sea is undeniable, something mankind has long taken advantage of but will never be able to bridle.

Perhaps we need to be reminded of our own tininess, and that is why we find ourselves drawn to such works?

Айвазовский И.К. Волна

Волна. Ivan Aivazovsky [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Regardless, to my eyes, Aivazovsky’s painting of the sea remain very, very much among the best of the genre.

Hovhannes Aivazovsky - The Ninth Wave - Google Art Project.jpg

The Ninth Wave, Aivazovksy’s most famous work.
“Hovhannes Aivazovsky – The Ninth Wave – Google Art Project” by Hovhannes Aivazovsky (1817 – 1900) (Russian) (Painter, Details of artist on Google Art Project) – jgHuL-7yxgrOSw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading

Scott Burdick on Modern Art vs. Beauty

Briton Rivière - Aphrodite 02.jpg

Briton Rivière – Aphrodite 02″ by Briton Rivière – info: [1] – pic: [2]. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The state of contemporary art occasionally pops up as a topic here. To me, two necessary components art are truth and beauty, and the two are often very much intertwined. Would you not agree that Truth is a beautiful thing, though it often stings? Beauty is not always true (witness any actress who has put herself under the knife), of course, but it is terribly important—I would argue that beauty is, in fact, vital to man’s well-being. It it brings us joy and delight, it is ennobling, it can cause us to aspire—it has powerful effect upon our mind for good or ill (but that Beauty is so often an Achilles’ heel for mankind only serves to point to its importance to us).

If most of us very honest and unconcerned with others’ opinions (this rarely bothers me; I’m part O’Hara, so pulling punches is simply not my MO), few of us will call many modern art pieces “beautiful”. (Of course, we must be willing to pass judgment, just as we do when deciding whether or not something is good for us to eat.)

Continue reading

A Virtual Tour of The Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Where there's smoke there's fire

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire”, Russell Patterson, circa 192?. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-01589

First of all, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I have been having serious battles with my computer all week (we’re at around 18 kernel panic shutdowns thus far), and today has been no exception. Let’s just all say a quick prayer and cross our fingers that this post is not going to have to tide you over for weeks and weeks. 😉 Saving my work has become a serious tic now, though; this seems to me both good and bad.

There have been repeated threats that I was going to talk about an amazing resource for history lovers, art fans, architecture buffs, and really just about any living human being—the Library Of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)—with you, and today seems like a good day to do so.

How this massive online source of art, photographs, old books, sheet music, and more came to my attention I really can’t recall, but it was a most fortuitous day. The collections offered are fairly astounding in their breadth and depth, and if you ever need something worthwhile with which to devour your time, the PPOC is it.

Belle Isle Park, Grand Canal

Belle Isle Park, Grand Canal (Detroit, Michigan). Circa 1880-1899. Detroit Publishing Co., publisher. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-det-4a05260

Continue reading