Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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Timeless Beauty – John Lane (2003)

**Timeless Beauty – John Lane. Green Books, Devon. (2003)**


John Lane uses this thought-provoking and brave book to argue that we have largely lost contact with the beautiful, and that our society is suffering greatly as a result. Why is so much modern architecture so nerve-janglingly awful, or just plain dull? What effect does this have on us? We live lives surrounded by functional objects bereft of beauty – when did you last see a house built by a mainstream construction company that was so beautiful that it took your breath away? Have you ever seen a mobile phone so exquisite that you will always treasure it? We have lost our way, and the effects of this separation are all too clear. C.F.A. Voysey is quoted as saying ‘ugliness is a poison wherever it is found and harmful to all concerned in its making, as well as in its use, therefore to be spurned at all costs’. James Hillman, again, says ‘the ugly is whatever we no longer notice, the simply boring’.

This book is profound, and asks questions on many levels. Lane looks back through history, arguing that the most beautiful things created by humanity were fashioned as worship to a greater power, be it the great European cathedrals or Buddhist cave paintings. The advent of art as personal expression led to the loss of a higher spiritual purpose, which meant that projects such as the cathedrals which took four generations to complete, will never be seen again. While acknowledging that we are probably the most aesthetically impoverished culture history has yet produced, and that the current environmental crisis is as much a crisis of aesthetics as anything else, he argues passionately that ‘the world will be saved by beauty’. This will be realised by its giving people a reverence, a sense of respect for nature, a sense of the sacred reabsorbed into everyday life.

I drew great strength from this book. Lane argues that, as I have always felt, we need beauty, and that we as permaculture designers, natural builders, gardeners, artists, should always strive for beauty. ‘Every single act’, Lane writes, ‘can add to or detract from the sum total of beauty in our home and district. Those who fail to practice their creativity are not only impoverishing their own existence, they are losing one of the deep springs of our future vitality and hope’.

I did feel that he was on slightly shaky ground when he was enthusing about the things he personally believes to be beautiful. He lists paintings and works of art which he feels to have a ‘timeless beauty’, rather in the same way that writers of fanzines I would have read 15 years ago raved about why the new 7