the aesthetics of the everyday

I’m not sure “neglected” is the right word here:

“Consider what goes on when you lay the table for guests: you will not simply dump down the plates and cutlery anyhow. You will be motivated by a desire for things to look right–not just to yourself but also to your guests. Likewise when you dress for a party or a dance, even when you arrange the objects on your desk or tidy your bedroom in the morning: in all these cases you are striving for the right and appropriate arrangement, and this arrangement has to do with the way things look. These examples point us to ‘the aesthetics of everyday life’, for a long time a neglected topic, the neglect of which explains, indeed, many of the ways in which people misunderstand architecture and design, wrongly construing as a form of high art what is more usually an exercise in discretion.”

—Roger Scruton, Beauty

It seems, rather, that the practice of ordinary discretion in the everyday arts has been purposefully discouraged. Even as the importance of the aesthetic has been deginirated, its practice passed into “trained” hands. While engineers build some ugly buildings, I can only laugh when my father–in–law (a structural engineer) assesses some monstrosity with, “must have been some architect”.

One of the things that has always attracted me about the arts and crafts movement was the conviction that design and good taste are things accessible to the common man; that is, with only the barest of education, we all may interact with and craft objects sensibly and tastefully designed. The popularity of Apple products—besides their technology—lies in the keen sense of industrial design; there is a pleasure to using a well–made and beautiful product which enhances its usefulness beyond the immediately obvious parameters. I hold (without reading too much into this appropriation) that the aesthetic dimension brings our tools and environments more easily into the state Heidegger called ready–to–hand; the well–designed object disappears into our selves in the way the IBM Model–M* I’m using to write this post disappears into my self (except for, of course, this moment when I am thinking about it to tell you!). The inability of the self to settle into the disturbing is why environment and aesthetics matter so much.

I am no stranger to being accused of elitism for the high place I give aesthetics in the practice of liturgy. While I do not think “elitism” is a dirty word, I don’t think it is the correct one, here. The commonsense of good liturgy should be a minimum requirement and is accessible without any special intellectual or “creative” gift; the lack of it is something purposefully created and maintained, in the way we wish to push buildings to the creative sorts. (The disaster of parish liturgical committees is, of course, that they are full of people who believe themselves to be of that special creative order, not instead simply exercising the good taste they should share with their fellow parishioners.)

*This is not to say that the Model–M is particularly attractive in the way, let’s say, my MacBook Pro is, but it presents itself only as a keyboard and is designed superbly for the task. It is not ugly because its functionality is so obvious, while many more sleek keyboards are somewhat repugnant.


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