Against the grain: towards a natural history of art and taste
This may be less so in the art world, but certainly in that bigger more interesting other world, there has been a return to those hoary Enlightenment notions of natural beauty and the categorical imperative of universal values. There are many reasons why this shift in cosmological thinking is happening now, when globalisation and climate change press ever more strongly on us. The process began in the 1960s, in the new dawning of the Age of Aquarius. One image actually credited with changing the way people thought about their relationship to the cosmos is a famous photograph of planet Earth seen from the moon. Taken by an astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission at the height of the Cold War, it has been credited with achieving two miraculous things: - In an instant we earthlings realised how petty our ideological divisions were: suddenly we were all in it together, cast onto one small island. The planet became our point of reference or benchmark. After this, everything became global. The universal was back on the agenda. - The poignant fragility of planet earth inspired an ecological consciousness around the globe. Less noticed was a third outcome: after the carnage of world wars, concentration camps, nuclear annihilation, existential dread and Marcel Duchamp, hope, love and beauty were rediscovered; and not just beauty, but natural beauty.