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Beauty - a forgotten word in a world of social concerns

Culture and religion are the two great inventions of civilisation. Both of them employ the imagination in a divine manner to the point where we do not have to be reminded that there is a separation between reality and fantasy. The development of 20th-century thought has represented a severe questioning of the value of those things that cannot be measured - in many areas of life, but, in particular, art and architecture.

This line of attack on culture and religion was propagated by communism, where it was necessary to define life in terms that could be quantified to ensure a common understanding and subsequently uniformity. The great religions are beautiful accumulative philosophies that not only attempt to explain the unknown but, in doing so, develop attitudes and behaviours which bring peace and tranquillity to the world.

Through speculation and representation, culture mirrors our world to give new understanding and an extraordinary depth of appreciation. Both religion and culture make life better through beauty.

As a result of the quest for quantification and qualification, beauty has been culled and many extraordinary people who could have contributed to making our lives better in the 20th century have been sidelined (often through their own intelligence) into conforming to an agenda of others'creation.

Earlier this year, a leading member of the church announced that religion today had ceased to have relevance for the majority of people. This announcement was made in the same week that Tate Modern objected to the erection of a residential tower near the gallery that would be higher than itself, so threatening the Tate's dominance.

Presumably, the new Tate will deserve protected views of itself in the same way that St Paul's Cathedral has. The point here is that the gallery, as opposed to the art, has become the object of attention. Both the cathedral and the gallery miss the point in that they are subservient to the practices they contain. But once they are represented by an edifice, the process of counting starts which encourages them to justify themselves in terms of visitor numbers. The building has become the content at the expense of religion and culture.

The theory of art and architecture in the 20th century prevented many architects from giving their skills and imagination to the world. The practice, in response to the theory, became confused with social policy. Architects became so obsessed with turning policy into building and delivery techniques, and with presenting an egalitarian image, that they forgot beauty and imagination. From this over-indulgence in social concern - in itself a good objective - architects denied themselves the opportunity to play, as they became embarrassed by the idea of style and individuality. The world became homogenised.

This sad situation was exacerbated by the role of the critics and theorists who badly translated the philosophical works of Hegel and Wittgenstein into a form of practice which resulted in an architecture of the bland and uniform. This ultimately played into the hands of the emerging world of globalisation that required a labour force of automatons. The individual was dead and architects, who by this time had settled for technology as a style, did not notice.

Culture and religion became sidelined as great ideas that make life better, and society assumed the danger of a flatness that would allow Tate Modern to be easily converted into a four-star hotel. Beauty is a forgotten word.

WA from a Sherringham garden hut

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