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.

How difficult is it to create something that is beautiful? In furniture, it is a lot more difficult than it might appear. In art and architecture, the creation of the beautiful might be the intent, but I am not all that certain that the results match the intent. Even more frustrating is that the past really doesn’t copy well.

Beautiful pieces have been made in every style and every era. And yet it is more difficult to recognize beauty of recent concoction if only because it is relatively fresh and new. Things made in the 1950’s, for example, have not stood the test of time, haven’t had a chance to reach their potential.

Our culture has a fascination with the new which is often heralded as beautiful. But new and good are different concepts. When the 20th century is assessed two hundred years from now, I suspect that a segment of our culture will be perceived as self indulgent and decadent. This is not wrong, every culture has such moments, but wouldn’t it be nice to not be blinkered about seeing beauty?

The diversion that distracts us is public relations. If a certain segment of our society sees something as beautiful, there is a general falling in line to that view. Again, this is human behavior and not to be condemned–better for it to be understood and examined and re-examined. Only then does real beauty stand a chance.

The International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show (IFAADS) is currently running at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Ave. I recommend it as a respite from life in NYC and as a place to see some truly beautiful things. Better yet, you can talk to the dealers and get a glimpse of the passion that drives dealers. That alone is worth the price of admission.

This passion is interesting. For me, it has to do with a number of things, but the most basic is beauty. Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, but I would say that if I assembled a dozen English furniture dealers and placed 50 pieces in front of them to rank from the most to the least beautiful, the lists would be more similar than disparate.

There is a second test of beauty and that is the survival of an object. Naturally there are wars and unforeseen disasters that destroy great things, but generally speaking, beautiful things survive because they are beautiful. This is the test of time and it is irrefutable–it has nothing to do with markets or fashion–it has everything to do with the piece itself.

There was a wonderful piece of Chipendale furniture for sale at Christies last week. It was wonderful because it was beautiful and in a form that is not often beautiful, a breakfront bookcase. In the catalogue footnote, they showed the picture of a very famous breakfront bookcase at Wilton House in Wiltshire that is, in my opinion, stunning and even extraordinary, but I would not rate it as beautiful as the one at Christies.

Beautiful in the 18th century is beautiful in the 21st century. Whether everyone sees it or not is immaterial. We live according to the moment and that affects our ability to see clearly. Dealers work hard to put aside today’s fashion to sharpen perception and that is not easy. We all want to survive and sell what is hot, but our roots are in what we know and what we work to understand. The guiding principle, the passion, is beauty.

Growing up in the 1950’s, I often remember hearing people talk about how Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here!”, meaning that he took responsibility for things that happened in his administration. Our government has grown so large that it is hard to say that the buck stops anywhere, but frankly, if more people acknowledged the responsibility of their actions, Truman’s expression could be put back into use.

The Tea Party, the political sensation of the year, has some very good points about the size of government and the inherent fiscal irresponsibility of such a behemoth. Their solution, nominating people who do not believe in the function of government, qualifies as more than ironic, it is a genuine conundrum. What we need to elect is people who are good at analyzing problems, not people who think that shutting things down is an answer.

Politics has always had a problem with absurdity. Political environments can be like forest fires where a stupid idea can gain traction and indiscriminately burn the entire forest when a controlled burning would have been effective. Think of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Centrists have no catchy euphemisms, no great slogans with which to enamor the electorate. Compromise has always been seen as unmanly. But the people I know that compromise also seem ready to take responsibility. That buck needs to stop somewhere.

I have been told by people, some of them even in my business, that antiques and English furniture are not in fashion. They are certainly entitled to their opinion although for a dealer to think so is a tad defeatist in my eyes. I consistently dissent from that opinion for several reasons. To begin with, a thing of beauty lasts forever and in that same vein, good design doesn’t veer into being bad design just because it is out of fashion. To go one step further, good design cannot go out of fashion because it is good.

Wright and Elwick were Yorkshire cabinetmakers in the 18th century who sort of made Chippendale style furniture, only that it really isn’t Chippendale. It is almost always well made, but the proportions always seem out of whack. I have seen very few Wright and Elwick pieces that I actually like. For me, Wright and Elwick furniture has never been in fashion simply because it is so awkward– uncomfortable to the eye is another way I would phrase it. Wright and Elwick furniture could easily go out of fashion from my point of view, its period notwithstanding.

Fashion is tricky. We all like to think of ourselves as arbiters of taste with perspicacity to see what is fashionable. I don’t believe we are. Think of the things that one gets given that need to be displayed, think of the things purchased because they were inexpensive that you just can’t let go, the list of things that are potentially unfashionable is endless for almost every family. Furthermore, we all should realize that fashion is fickle, it has no allegiance to what is beautiful and that is a dangerous trap. It is easier to stick to what is beautiful and let others worry about what is in and what is out. English furniture is only out to those people who bought the wrong things to begin with.