Roger Scruton casually drops a startling claim in Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, about the nature of beauty:
Implicit in our sense of beauty is the thought of community—of the agreement in judgements that makes social life possible and worthwhile.
I doubted this at first. Though I think there is an objective standard bigger than any of our personal tastes, people do have such different concepts of beauty. How could agreements on what is beautiful make social life possible?
However, the more I thought about the idea of community, the more it made sense.
Beauty is an integral part of our daily lives, and we can experience it in so many different ways: friendships, music, art, books, and even work. The communities we form are frequently based around mutual experiences or mutual appreciation for something we find beautiful or important to us. Several of my closest friendships developed through the mutual love of music. These close communities are possible because of a value agreement. And it’s nigh impossible to form a close friendship if you have no mutual interests or share at least one or two ideological stances.
Scruton also argues that an “agreement in judgements” is not only key to the possibility of social life, but also to its worth.
The need for relationship is written into our very existence. Try as we might to survive alone at times, interacting with and relying on others is one of the most vital aspects of personal growth and even the sense of fulfillment. We need be with others to bounce around ideas, converse, and learn. Our interactions develop our characters and direct our longings towards self-improvement and even community improvement.
Scruton does not develop this section but I think there is one particular application that has made a world of difference to my understanding of how beauty fits into community.
We all ache to create, and the communal creation of beauty is indeed one of the most satisfying experiences (just one reason I think the creation of friendship is so fulfilling). I think it is important to seek out means for communal creativity and cultivation of beauty. When I was a college student I sang in chorale for four semesters and was part of an a capella group until I graduated. Chorale was an 8AM class four days a week (the nightmare of every college student) but it was the biggest class I took. We were willing to wake up early because our communal gathering was dedicated to creating something beautiful, and ultimately satisfying.
I found the opportunities to sing with others were some of the most enjoyable and fulfilling aspects of my college adventure. During my busiest semesters, it was the activity I looked forward to most. I personally tend to seek out occasions to sing for a cultivation of communal beauty, but there are many opportunities: orchestras, drama, writing groups, athletics, and I’m sure countless others.
Finding such creative and communal activities takes work, but I promise it will not be without reward. We are meant to cultivate community as much as we are designed to create. It is wonderful to see the value and worth added to day to day life when we can combine these aspects.
Image by Kaleb Nimz via Unsplash.