It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. Never hurts to remember why we fight.
Non scholæ sed vitæ discendum est.
“We must learn not for school, but for life.”
— Latin proverb (paraphrase of Seneca)
I try to practice as a classical architect today, and I enjoy it. There are many ways in which classical architecture is misunderstood…
In which a currently-practicing classical architect – a sadly rare breed, these days – discusses seven common misconceptions concerning classical architecture: Pastiche, Functionalism, New building types, Materials, Cost, Tradesmen, and Politics. A most interesting treatment!
Though he is obviously trying to simplify as much as possible for a general audience, I confess that I got a little bogged down in some of the technical aspects, and had to resort to a dictionary more than once. Alas, my education in classical architecture, as in many other realms, is not all I could wish! Nonetheless, I had no trouble grasping the essence of what he was saying, and I am quite sure that will be true with any reasonably educated, or simply well-read, reader.
He makes many good points, some of them of a strictly architectural nature (which means, the interrelation between humans and the buildings in which they live and work), while others might be seen to have a more general application. Here is one of the latter:
” I think the working man is misunderstood by everyone, not least himself. There is, after all, no fundamental difference between the tradesman, the architect or his employers. They are all men made in the image of God with needs and aspirations. But I have noticed that we are all far less covetous when we are working on a job we enjoy; at the end of the day we can go home and think about it and return the next day to take the work a little further. I have heard this from so many tradesmen, that it must be true; it is the boredom of repetitive work, work which requires nothing from you, that makes for an empty mind. The empty mind is a dangerous thing because it soon gets filled with a host of other thoughts which no industrial expert can control…”
And then there is this:
“It is often said that there are political implications in the classical style… The truth is that it does express the society that uses it, just as man’s or woman’s face expresses what is in their heart, but this does not mean that it takes sides… [He goes on to list a startling variety of groups and philosophies, throughout history, who have utilized elements of classical architecture.] Although the spiritual, political, material and temporal influences are crystallised in wood and stone, and expressed in classical forms, the classical grammar remains neutral; like the paint on the artist’s palette.”
As someone who tends to the conservative and traditional, socially and politically as well as philosophically, classical architecture has an obvious appeal to me. I value such elemental ideals as timeless beauty, stability, permanence, order, and craft. As Architectural Revival puts it,
“Create places our ancestors would recognise and our descendants will be proud of. Stand for Beauty, Tradition, Heritage, Identity, Order & Craft.”
It is true, however, that the elements and ideals of classical architecture are not limited to any particular political, economic, or social philosophy. They transcend such matters, cutting to the heart of the human spirit. This should not be surprising, if we recall that Beauty is, along with Goodness and Truth, one of the classical Three Transcendentals: all of which are interrelated, and all of which are gifts of, and indeed expressions of, the One Who perfectly embodies all three – that is, God Himself.
But whether you follow that line of metaphysical reasoning or not, the fact remains that the beauty and value of classical architecture transcends any particular use to which humans may put it, or context within which we may place it. The ancients did not create the classical standards of beauty, proportion, etc.; they discovered them. The appreciation of them is innate to our human nature, for it is grounded in Nature itself.
[Which, of course, is another way of saying the created order, which both stems from and leads to the Creator… and there I go, getting all metaphysical again! But what do you expect, of a Christian cleric?]
And this is why classical architecture continues to have such aesthetic appeal, and continues to give us such feelings of satisfaction, completeness, and pleasure when we gaze upon it, whether the building in question was erected thousands of years ago, or just last week.
Here’s another excerpt from Donald Davidson’s essay, “A Mirror for Artists,” in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930), with my thoughts inspired thereby, following:
“Education can do comparatively little to aid the cause of the arts as long as it must turn out graduates into an industrialized society which demands specialists in vocational, technical, and scientific subjects. The humanities, which could reasonably be expected to foster the arts, have fought a losing battle since the issue between vocational and liberal education was raised in the nineteenth century…’
“The more they indoctrinate the student with their values, the more unhappy they will make him. For he will be spoiled for the industrial tasks [and the same could be said of technology, or the “service economy”] by being rendered inefficient. He will not fit in. The more refined and intelligent he becomes, the more surely he will see in the material world the lack of the image of nobility and beauty that the humanities inculcate in him.”
Maybe this is the true reason that so many colleges and universities seem to be trying to re-envision themselves as glorified vocational schools! The proximate cause may be the (arguably laudable, on the face of it) desire by institutions of higher learning to make themselves more “relevant” and help their students get jobs with their diplomas.
But it may be that the ultimate cause is the desire of the puppeteers that pull the strings in so many aspects of society – the globalist, corporatist plutocrats, the vulture capitalists and profiteers, the robber-barons of the 21st century – to suppress aspirations toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in favor of their (un)holy trinity of Production, Consumption, and Profit.
It certainly would suit those whose goal in life is to make money by selling “stuff” (whether goods or services) to promote the creation of a society of mindless drones who are numbed by the technological equivalent of “bread and circuses” into a passive existence where getting said “stuff” and being entertained (mostly electronically, which doesn’t even require a person to leave the house) becomes the goal of an otherwise largely futile and nihilistic existence.
They certainly wouldn’t want people to be seriously wrestling with questions like “what is the Good?” or “how do we reach it?” or “what is the proper end of a human being?” Or struggling with attempting to discern the meaning of Truth, or which volitional (self-willed) acts of a human being are ethically virtuous, and which are ethically vicious. Or even grappling with the characteristics of genuine Beauty, and the relationship between and among Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, the classical Three Transcendentals.
Best not to even admit that there might be such a thing as transcendence. Certainly under no circumstances should they be led down trails which might lead them to the consideration that there may be some sort of actual, objective Divine Reality, outside the constraints of our physical-sensory universe (although in significant ways immanent within it) – and especially not one which is personal, concerned with humanity, and which has both plans for, and expectations of, us humans!
Human beings concerned about such matters would be lousy consumers of “stuff,” since they might begin to suspect that there may after all be higher aspirations which are, in the long run, more important…
When we build, let it not be for our time but for all time. Real architecture stands the test of time, aesthetically and physically.
“Classical architecture is fundamentally respectful of Tradition; it’s fundamentally respectful of the order of Nature as revealing the mind of God… Certain proportions are harmonic; certain ways of bringing things together are ordered and perfected and radiant, and they ring true to the eye [just as certain musical structures and harmonies ring true to the ear]. So Classicism is basically [a way of creating] architecture that is about the noblest and highest achievements humanity can [attain]. What is the most poetic, most harmonious, most ordered way to do architecture? How can it restore order to the world? So, Classicism is not a style – primarily, although there are stylistic components to it. It is a way of imitating the mind of God in architecture.”
— Dennis R. McNamara, “Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy”
He who stands for tradition, stands longest.
The Classical tradition will continue long after the memory of Modernism has faded.
Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.
Stand for Beauty, Tradition, Heritage, Order and Craft.
~ Architectural Revival
To which I can only comment, indeed.