"The Tyranny of Taste" by Jules Lubbock

The Tyranny of Taste The Politics of Architecture and Design in Britain, 1550-1960 Jules Lubbock

Publication date:
24 May 1995
Paul Mellon Centre
430 pages: 260 x 210mm
110 b-w + 10 color illus.

How do countries acquire their distinctive features and appearance, their look or style? In this stimulating book, Jules Lubbock answers this question by focusing on Britain, with its characteristic terraced houses, Georgian squares, postwar slab blocks, and Victorian floral ornamentation. Lubbock traces the fierce debates over consumerism, good design, and town planning that have raged in Britain since the Elizabethan period, investigating how the design of buildings and possessions—domestic as well as official—becomes an issue of public policy and controversy.

Lubbock discusses the ideas, policies, and motivations of designers and commentators from 1550 to the present, including such figures as Charles I, Inigo Jones, Joseph Addison, Pope, Hogarth, Pugin, Dickens, Ruskin, and Le Corbusier. He describes the growing public awareness that taste and beauty are related to economic growth, that there is what he calls a political economy of design. He shows, for example, that London was shaped by a desire to control its expansion in order to maintain social stability in the face of the developing industrial and commercial revolution; that Puritans believed that the high consumption of luxury goods essential to prosperity could be made morally acceptable through good design; and that the court of James I consciously adopted classicism as the appropriate style for the newly joined kingdoms of England and Scotland. Lubbock shows the different ways in which architecture, design, planning, and style were believed to contribute to a "Good Society." He suggests that the political economy of design was not only viable in the past but can also provide an essential framework for the future.

Jules Lubbock is lecturer in art history and theory at the University of Essex.

"Lubbock has meticulously researched and compiled an impressive array of commentary."?Library Journal

"The most interesting parts of the book are those dealing with the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Lubbock sheds interesting light on the extravagant display of Elizabethan courtiers, arguing that the great country-houses of the time were appropriately styled and staffed. . . . This book is an impeccably hand-crafted object. . . . This makes it a welcome rarity."?Hugh Pearman, Sunday Times

"This book is a major contribution to the history of the design and manufacture of artifacts and buildings in Britain from the mid sixteenth century to the mid twentieth century...Lubbock, well aware of the complexity of the cultural forces, national and international, shaping the history of ideas, most creditably draws a convincing and subtle shape from the foggy mass. . . . Again the scope is enormous, as we move from the literary evidence of the early Stuarts and the debate of hospitality over retreat, to John Evelyn's recommendations concerning the education of architects. . . . The two central themes?the economics of protectionism or openness, and the style debate concerning Magna Britannia?are brilliantly explored."?Eric Parry, Perspectives

"Lubbock has opened up design to an area of study that links it to the real world of commercialism and politics and has thoughtfully described some of the important social undercurrents that inform it. . . . [This is a] well-written and perceptive book."?David M. Owens, Boston Book Review

"[A] penetrating and masterful analysis of four centuries of design politics. . . . Lubbock has rendered everyone involved in design a huge service. There is a lifetime of debate to flow from this work."?Patrick Hannay, Architectural Review

"This vast survey of British architectural fashion attempts to show how the shifting tastes governing this, the most public form of art, have reflected the political, moral, economic, and social tensions of modern history. The research is impeccable, the text lucid, the opinions provocative, and the volume attractively produced."?Virginia Quarterly Review

"Vast in scope and detail. . . . It wouldn't look out of place in any art and design library."?Simon Ford, Arlis News Sheet

"[This] book is the product of a free-thinking and subtly maverick intelligence."?Charles Saumarez Smith, Art Newspaper

"In The Tyranny of Taste, Jules Lubbock explores the history of British taste and the debates which have surrounded it over the last 400 hundred years. The treatment is not purely art-historical, but also draws upon social and economic history, literary and moral criticism, and the relationship between industry and design. . . . Attractively presented and well provided with appropriate illustrations. . . . This is a substantial and thought-provoking book; not standard fare for business historians, but all the more worthy of our attention."?Jon Press, Business History

"The Tyranny of Taste is a significant contribution to the study of architectural design, decorative arts, and the changing field of art history. It provides an excellent study of how national politics and economic concerns have influenced and will continue to influence public and domestic design. . . . It offers a solid, scholarly account of the decorative arts that places these often-ignored objects in a significant national context."?Kristina Wilson, H-Net News

"Jules Lubbock has written a fascinating study of the evolution of British attitudes and policies regarding art and commercial design. He manages to balance detail with discursive commentary and develop a cohesive theme concerning sociopolitical dimensions of artistic fashion. . . . Lubbock thus lends new credence and sophistication to the study of British taste initiated two generations ago by John Steegman."?Rhodri Windsor Liscombe, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians