The love that dare not speak its name

July 20, 2007

in Articles, General Interest

This is the topic for Saturday’s thinkingardens supper.(so you can be with us in spirit) We start with cake (!) at Veddw then on to Tintern, under the shadow of the Abbey but in the comfort of the Anchor, to discuss beauty. Sorry if you wonder why you didn’t hear of it – it filled fast by word of mouth.

This article was published a long time ago, on an earlier website, so you have to read the comments then click your return arrow to find the next one. They are worth the effort.

I doubt the supper will be written up – it’s a lot to ask of anyone, to eat, drink, engage in lively discussion and then write about it…

Anne Wareham, editor.

Viburnum Opulus berries Late August Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham 036

“Eighteeenth century gardens were expected to perform the tasks of their sister arts, to offer messages visitors could “read” and scenes they could savour.” Stephanie Ross*

An object’s beauty may not be universal, but the neural basis for appreciating beauty probably is.Moheb Costandi

by Anne Wareham with responses from Andrew Wilson, Andrew Lawson, Ian Kitson, Noel Kingsbury, Bridget Rosewell, Anne Beswick and Sara Maitland

It is clear that one of our major problems in trying to convince the public that gardens can be art is the word we dare not speak: beauty.

Beauty has been out of fashion for years and garden designers who think in terms of art tend to follow the other visual arts and think ‘conceptual’. Hence all the entertainment at Chaumont and ex-Westonbirt that perhaps more often confuses than delights. But I am in thrall to the beauty that I can create in league with the seasons, weather and most of all, light.

Helianthus, Veddw, Copyright Anne Wareham

It’s like my love of flowers – best keep quiet about it, even though this very minute the late summer sunshine is making magic of my declining late summer borders.And also, in honest truth, it is the indifference to beauty –or the lack of it – which drives my preoccupation with garden criticism. So often when I visit a garden I am confronted with the horrifically ugly, and that seems to me to make a mockery of our materials, which are the best the world can offer. Beds of stalky roses rising out of bleak bare earth, pools with gloppy lumps of algae. Messes of muddled planting. Too many plants shoved in anyhow. And – well.. It makes me angry.

For me, meaning is embedded in the Veddw. I live in consciousness of my predecessors on the site, the cruel nature of their lives, and still the beauty which surrounded them. Their hard labour is visibly etched into the land and acknowledging them seems to me a duty, cushioned in comfort as I am. But aesthetics come first. I have been censoring this declaration as long as I have been pursuing this quest. Was I right to? Is this truly the unmentionable? If it isn’t – then it’s time to discuss the nature of beauty and its expression in gardens. If, however, I am right, then it is time to contemplate the nature of beauty and how we might discuss it intelligently.

Anne Wareham

Copyright Anne Wareham

Veddw House Garden website

*Stephanie Ross “Gardens, earthworks, and environmental art” in “Landscape, natural beauty and the arts”, Ed. Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell

Comment from Andrew Wilson

The main problem is one of subjectivity which relates in turn to our experiences of life – memory, location, travel, happiness etc.  An unhappy experience for example is unlikely to leave us feeling warm when something reminds us of that memory.  I also find it interesting that familiarity can either breed contempt or a great love affair.  I for example do not feel a warm glow when I think of my home town but others do…

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Comment from Bridget Rosewell

I want to give you a considered reply but at the same time an immediate one.  And maybe it is the immediate that matters.  Whether you are right or wrong depends entirely on what you want to achieve, not what you believe.  We will never convince the public that gardens are art – they don’t care….

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Comment from Noel Kingsbury

A successful garden, like any work of art, can surely be appreciated on several different levels. Indeed I would argue that its ability to be so appreciated is one of the criteria one can use for critical evaluation….

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Comment from Ian Kitson

You may be right !

In no particular order……there are thousands of books, courses and opinions defining beauty. So on the one hand you need to place your thought processes amongst theirs. Alternatively you can do a Barbara Hepworth and just say you can’t be arsed with all that. You also hint at a pickled sheep….

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Comment from Andrew Lawson

I’ve been pondering your question of ‘beauty’ since you wrote two weeks ago.  Various thoughts come to mind, and whirl around and make shapes that are far from conclusive.  But I shall spill them out and see where they might lead….

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Comment from Anne Beswick

I think you are well within reason to ask that our gardens be beautiful but you must then allow that beauty is different for different people.  I know people for whom a steam engine or a well-placed pass to the goalmouth are life-enhancing and poetic.  Such things lift the spirits….

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Comment from Sara Maitland

I am completely baffled by Anne Beswick’s comments. They seem to me to partake of a curiously misplaced “egalitarianism” which is rife in society more widely, where it is called “dumbing down” – and is itself “patronising.”….

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Comment from Anne Beswick

I accept Sara Maitland’s criticisms of my previous comments.  Perhaps I was allowing my insecurities to show but….

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