The Beauty Project

A small stack of books with spines showing, very colourful

What is the value of beauty in live performance? 

How is an audience affected by beauty? 

When the event is over, does beauty remain? 

The Beauty Project is a collaboration between a group of artists (Quarantine), a physicist (Rox Middleton), and a philosopher (Lucy Tomlinson). Together we’ve undertaken a year-long research experiment, looking at the value of beauty, with a focus on experiences of beauty in live performance. 

We are seeking to build a language for articulating, evidencing and understanding the value of beauty. While Quarantine and Rox work in different contexts (Rox studies structural colour in nature from a science lab), we both consider what we do as creating frames for looking at beauty in the everyday. Lucy, whose PhD was in the phenomenology of pleasure, came on board as our research assistant and collaborator, bringing in a broader philosophical debate about beauty across history. 

We began with the proposal that beauty is of value (in art, in science, in life) but that in an increasingly evaluation-driven arts ecology/funding system/world, beauty is at risk of being overlooked, with focus given instead to attributes that are more easily measured. While these are important too, there’s a danger that we reduce the arts (and science, and life) solely to their functional value. As an example of beauty missing in current discussions about the value of the arts, in the latest Arts Council England ten-year strategy, beauty isn’t mentioned once. 

We’re using 12 Last Songs as our case study. To collect data, we created lab books and invited artists, participants and audiences to fill them in. The lab books draw on Rox’s methodologies, Quarantine’s process of asking questions and Lucy’s philosophical framework. We’re currently looking at these to discover what we’ve learned. Alongside this project, Rox is leading a sister project exploring the value of beauty in science. Across July and August 2023 we’ll begin to share the findings from all of this research… 

We are grateful to the Centre for Cultural Value, Leeds, for supporting this project through their Collaborate Fund, as well as with their time and expertise. 

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