NR Digital

The Age of the Ugly

by Michael Knox Beran
Beauty’s decline is bad for the soul

C. S. Lewis used to distinguish sharply between what he called “Old Western” civilization and the civilization of the modern West that succeeded it. He attributed the division to the machine culture of the New Western man; I have sometimes thought that as distinct a fault line could be traced by contrasting the Old Western man’s passion for artistic beauty with the relative indifference of his New Western descendant.

Compare a modern shopping center to, say, the marketplace of Arles in Provence — it is now called the Place de la République — and the falling-off is incontestable. Where the Old Western man created beautiful forms instinctively, as a matter of course, we New Westerners as reflexively create ungainly ones. The Old Western man, the historian Johan Huizinga observed, insisted on having artistic beauty “in the midst of life”; the New Western man has “set art apart from life.”

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