The Beauty Project is a collaboration between a group of artists (Quarantine), a physicist (Rox Middleton), and a philosopher (Lucy Tomlinson). Together, we have undertaken a year-long research experiment looking at the cultural value of beauty. 

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 more easily measured attributes. While these are also important, there’s a danger that we reduce the arts and science solely to a functional value. As an example of beauty missing in current discussions on cultural value, in the latest Arts Council England ten-year strategy, beauty isn’t mentioned once. It might be less surprising that it’s also not mentioned in recent UKRI (or EPSRC or BBSRC) strategies, but it’s interesting why that should be unsurprising.

We wanted to understand if beauty has a value in these fields (still), and if so, how it can be understood. We are seeking to build a language for articulating and evidencing the value of beauty. We’ve been attempting to abandon social, political and cultural hierarchies associated with ‘the beautiful’, which art critic Dave Hickey described as “a social construction [-] what we’re supposed to like”,  and instead to embrace the multiplicity and complexity of experiences of beauty as defined by our research participants. In doing that, we let the participants take the lead on how to define the experience of beauty.

The research focuses on two key areas relevant to this and our practices: 

1.Experiences of beauty in live performance. Here we used 12 Last Songs by Quarantine as our case study, inviting audience members to be our experts, reflecting on if/where they experienced beauty in the performance.

2. Experiences of beauty in science. Here we invited scientists and students involved in academic research to be our experts, inviting them to reflect on if/where they had experienced beauty in their careers to date. 

We are interested in the affects of beauty, and, in the context of ephemeral experiences such as performance, whether beauty is something that remains once the event is over. We also asked participants to help contextualise their own experiences by asking questions about beauty experiences in daily life, their responses to philosophical statements about beauty, and their own ideas about what beauty is. 

This website acts as an invitation to explore our processes and findings so far. There’s no right or wrong way to engage with it, but we’ve made a guide to the content here. For us, this small-scale research experiment is only the beginning, and we are currently exploring what next.

Questions, ideas, proposals and reading suggestions are all welcomed. You can reach us on 

The Beauty Project was funded by the Centre for Cultural Value’s Collaborate Programme and EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account at the University of Bristol