I’m always on the look-out for areas to agree with my conservative friends. There are lots of technically inaccurate aspects to that prior sentence, but a grain of truth nonetheless!
And so it was with some excitement when in one of my manic whirlwindian desk-avoidance excursions through the Washington Post’s sprawling newsroom empire, I encountered, on a Countertop of Extraneous Publications, a copy of the National Review with a headline that I might almost agree with. “The Strange Death of Public Beauty.”
New Arcadia!, I thought! Linking arm in arm with the other end of the political spectrum on the one thing we could maybe agree on! We like Public Beauty!
Well the articles disappointed, so I won’t link to them. The first couldn’t seem to differentiate the terms ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and the second was the familiar screed against what gets installed these days as public sculpture. Both skated around the obvious problem of how their beloved market-based capitalism has contributed to a cheap, ugly public realm. And both seemed just plain grumpy, EVEN TO ME, who indulges my own sporadic grumpitude with something approaching fervor.
But all this a merely a prelude to an opportunity to use the word NOTWITHSTANDING! Here’s where we agree, or could. For whatever its ideological strengths or weaknesses, the design revolution of Modernism has left us with an inarguably outsized percentage of Bleak. This is not a condemnation, merely an observation. And my alternative? New Arcadian Design! “This is not just a look, it’s a lifestyle,” I would say if this were a TV ad. Public Beauty is not just something to look at, it’s something we should all be doing! When the robots are doing all the hateful, soul-crushing stuff you’re doing right now. Yes, soon we will each carve a classical urn. How much worse could the world be for that? Six billion urns is a good start, I say. Let’s give a nod toward a movement that conservatives might remember with some fondness, The City Beautiful. (Jane Jacobs branding it as a ‘design cult’ NOTWITHSTANDING). When I was a kid and saw stuff like this, I merely assumed it was the goal to make everything this beautiful. With the robot revolution we will have the newfound wealth and time to do it.