In this economy, artworks are valued not because they look good, but because they attempt to demystify the good-looking by showing it to be entangled with corrupt thought…
In practice, this means that one artwork, now as ever before, costs more than another because it may be said to better articulate the spirit of the age…
Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, 1999
I may agree or disagree with Mr. Scruton for reasons different from his but here he sets up an example which I find interesting.
Brooks is pointing to several distinct features of poetry. First, there is the fact that a line of poetry can express several thoughts simultaneously, whereas a paraphrase will at best lay them out in succession. For instance, the line 'bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang', describes both the trees in autumn and the recently ruined choirs of the monasteries that were still frequented in Shakespeare's youth. A paraphrase would give one of those readings, and then the other; but the power of the line consists partly in the fact that you hear them together, like simultaneous voices in music—and then the doom of autumn invades the image of the ruined monastery, just as the idea of sacrilege invades the image of the leafless tree.
Secondly, there is the fact that poetry is 'polysemous', developing its meaning on several levels—the levels of image, of statement, of metaphor, of allegory and so on. This point was made seven centuries ago in the celebrated letter to Can Grande della Scala explaining the allegorical meaning of the Divine Comedy—a. letter normally attributed to Dante—and in Dante's Convivio. And it became a commonplace of late medieval and early Renaissance poetics. A paraphrase would have to spell out the levels of meaning separately; whereas the power of poetry depends on their being presented simultaneously.
Beauty, A Very Short Introduction Roger Scruton 2011 (p. 94)
Thus, there is no excuse for a china pot being ugly, there is every reason why Rembrandt's and Degas' pictures should be, from the purely sensual point of view, supremely and magnificently ugly.
This, I think, will explain the apparent contradiction between two distinct uses of the word beauty, one for that which has sensuous charm, and one for the aesthetic approval of works of imaginative art where the objects presented to us are often of extreme ugliness. Beauty in the former sense belongs to works of art where only the perceptual aspect of the imaginative life is exercised, beauty in the second sense becomes as it were supersensual, and is concerned with the appropriateness and intensity of the emotions aroused. When these emotions are aroused in a way that satisfies fully the needs of the imaginative life we approve and delight in the sensations through which we enjoy the heightened experience because they possess purposeful order and variety in relation to those emotions.
Vision and Design, An Essay in Aesthetics Roger Fry, 1920
The utility of beauty as a legitimate recourse resides in its ability to locate us as physical creatures in a live, ethical relationship with other human beings in the physical world. Natural and man-made objects reside at the heart of this discourse. The intentions and values that inform these objects bear no relation to any meanings they might acquire. These physical things provide us with a correlative, an interstice or pause, if you will, upon which the past and future may pivot. The past may create an object and that object create the future if we read the physical world as ancient oracles read the entrails of goats and the flight of eagles—if we are sensitive to the past, alive to present, and alert to the possibilities of the future.
The condition of existence I am describing is nothing more or less than ethical, cosmopolitan paganism—the gorgeous inheritance bestowed upon us by the pre-Christian societies of the Mediterranean whose idolatrous proclivities have never been obliterated or even subordinated in the Christian West. Nor are they likely to be. The vernacular of beauty is a part of that pagan inheritance. The whole rhetoric of commerce and practical science is a part of it too, as are the foundational premises of this republic, whose framers embraced Cicero's insistence that the virtue of any politics is confirmed in the body of the citizen—in the corporeal safety and happiness of that single and collective body.
Talking about beauty involves us in a physical world bereft of transcendental attributes. It's human attributes are as numerous and protean as the gods of Rome (and amazingly similar in their utility). They fall to hand as we need them—novelty, familiarity, antiquity, autonomy, rarity, sanctity, levity, solemnity, eccentricity, complicity, and utility. Their value in the moment determines the temple at which we offer up our sacrifice. There is never any doubt of our desire, if we feel ourselves free enough to buy into the embodied panoply of likeness and resemblance before our eyes—not to own it, but to join it in a pagan embrace that closes the space between ourselves and everything beyond ourselves. It s hard to hold the world, of course, as we hold values dear, as we hold certain truths to be self-evident, but beauty, value, and truth arise out of the intimacy of that embrace.
The Invisible Dragon, Essays on Beauty by David Hickey, 2002