I made a point in my last blog that time is the arbiter of beauty and that our love of the new just gets in the way of perception. That is one of the reasons why 18th century furniture is so exciting to me. Time has cleared the cobwebs of misperception, at least for the students of the genre. As I said before, a dozen top dealers looking at 100 pieces of English furniture would pretty much agree on what was and wasn’t beautiful.
Context certainly plays a part in our judgment of beauty, but I would say that the value of that context is minimal. I may like or not things made in my life time, but my perception is skewed for a host of reasons. I can still feel my disappointment of Giacometti after having seen the Egyptian stick figures in the Neues Museum in Berlin. The creativity of the man dimmed for me. Perhaps I am wrong, but Giacometti just isn’t what he was in my eyes.
The glory of creativity is visible in things, but that visibility is greater 10, 50, 100 or 200 years after the piece was made. The complaints that Hogarth had of Kent and Burlington’s reliance on Palladio’s work now seems risible. Kent and Burlington spawned an English classicism that was no more Greek or Roman than the German or French classicism. Time has altered our perception and the contemporary carp looks more like a red herring.
Context blurs our concept of beautiful but context is often just subtext made overt. Ideas are the reason for building (and destroying) and these ideas are often powerful antidotes to reason. They can be a good thing, but they can also be passing fancies, much like puppy love. I would hate to think that we are all teenagers at heart, dying to be won over by clever ideas. That is a very sobering thought indeed.