Sunday, June 15, 2008

Beauty and function

Brian Appleyard has a nice blog about my book Universe of Stone. He says “Ball, in preferring earlier, starker Gothic to the later more decorative variety, teeters on the brink of the fallacy that has dogged architectural criticism of the last hundred years - the idea there is some necessary and rational connection between clearly expressed function and beauty.” I can see what he means, and why he may have got this impression. But my own preferences here are purely aesthetic: I find the profusion of crockets and the excesses of Flamboyant Gothic often mere clutter, as though the builders had lost faith in letting blank stone speak for itself. I do discuss in the book the Platonic notion that links beauty to intelligibility and order, an issue nicely dealt with in Umberto Eco’s book Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. But I don’t necessarily intend to imply any advocacy of this position.

Brian’s point is a reminder, however, that I should take care not to get too snobbish and purist about English and Late Gothic vaulting, with its lunatic mosaics of tiercerons and liernes and its fluted fans. These have their own over-enthusiastic charm, and we should just sit back and enjoy it.

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