The Meaning and Philosophy of Beauty
Beauty is most commonly defined as the emotional feeling of pleasure associated with objects which makes these objects enjoyable to see. Such objects may include sunsets, landscapes, humans and creative works of art. Beauty, along with aestheticism, is probably the oldest of the various disciplines of aestheticism, one of the oldest branches of aesthetics. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that we find beauty represented in so many different places, including art, literature, music, films, and television.
The word ‘beauty’ can also be used in the context of philosophy and aesthetic theory. Philosophy, as any student of philosophy will attest, is often concerned with explaining the nature of reality in the framework of intellectual thought. By extension, philosophy describes how the world appears from the perspective of the thinker. Aesthetics, on the other hand, are more direct and tends to evoke emotions more directly by means of physical sensations.
In modern aesthetics, beauty is not seen as an abstract quality. Beauty in modern aesthetics is typically linked to a particular interpretation of aesthetic objects and a specific aesthetic genre. The beauty of Van Gogh, for instance, would be considered beautiful according to some modern aesthetics experts while being rejected by others.
Theories of beauty and aesthetics abound in the field of aesthetics. In particular, many philosophers of modern aesthetics have examined how beauty relates to the self, an aspect of philosophy known as ‘personal aesthetics’. In the late twentieth century, Bernard Spendor sought to combine aesthetic sensation and psychological insight in order to create a more objective aesthetic sense. In doing so, he conceived of ‘deconstructive aesthetics’, whereby the perceived beauty of an object is in part determined by the history of its use. John Cage explored the relationship between art and life in the work “Starry Night”, creating a concept that was later taken up by the artist Jasper Johns.
Beauty, in the most general sense, can be defined as something that is pleasing to the eye, while also remaining unclaimed for its true nature or internal quality. Beauty however is often difficult to define because the different subjective perspectives upon beauty can vary widely. For some people, beauty is only the absence of ugliness, whereas for others, it requires to be a certain size and shape. Aesthetic philosophy in general therefore tends to have little definition beyond the belief that beauty is subjective and independent of any reference point.
Defining beauty however, is an issue that may concern many philosophers. Most will agree that beauty is something that one finds pleasing to the eye, while some may worry about beauty being subjective and thus subject to change. The existence and definition of beauty therefore pose a problem for those who seek to improve their personal lives by improving their appearance, or for those who may be self-conscious about their physical appearance. Those who are self-conscious about their appearance may worry that by being too beautiful, they might appear egotistical or shallow, and therefore worry that being too beautiful may make them unattractive, but this is not necessarily so.