Whether it’s a painting, a song, or a building, beauty can be found all around us. However, the true definition of beauty is far from clear cut. There are several theories that attempt to capture the true meaning of the word.
The classical notion of beauty entails an orderly arrangement of its constituent parts in a harmonious whole. This is often expressed mathematically as a ratio or percentage. In a more practical sense, beauty is a quality that enhances the experience of an object, connecting the observer to the object. Similarly, beauty in art may be a bridge between the artist and the viewer.
Beauty has been a topic of debate for centuries. In fact, there is an extensive literature on the topic. We will cover some of the most prominent theories and approaches to beauty.
In the classical era, the definition of beauty was embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, music, and sculpture. The ancients considered beauty to be one of the pillars of society, a necessary precondition for the good life. Aristotle believed that living things must be in harmony with each other in order to survive. Likewise, Locke argued that color is an effect of the mind, not the other way round.
One of the more enduring debates has been over whether beauty is objective or subjective. Some defenders of the former claim that the experience of beauty is primarily within the skull of the experiencer, whereas those against the latter argue that color experiences vary from one person to the next.
Despite the controversy surrounding the definition of beauty, the concept has not lost its allure. Many companies have a ‘beauty’ mission, including Patagonia, a clothing manufacturer with a well-known ethos. They attract creative talent, foster a positive workplace culture, and have an overall sense of purpose. During the 1980s, the focus on beauty gave way to a more sobering discussion of the concept’s role in society, and led to a reappraisal of what it is to be beautiful.
Despite the controversies associated with the term, beauty has been an important aspect of life since ancient times. Ancient treatments of beauty typically laud the pleasures of beauty in ecstatic terms. For example, the famous Plotinus described “delicious trouble” in the form of a trembling that is all the more impressive for the fact that it accompanied the aforementioned.
Another interesting piece of literature is the study of the ‘beauty’ that abounds in our everyday lives. For instance, there are some people who are color blind. And there are others who think that the most beautiful thing in the world is a swan. Although there is no universally accepted standard of beauty, a number of studies have shown that some objects are more beautiful than others.
To be fair, a lot of the debates about beauty have to do with the trivial, e.g. what is the most beautiful object in the universe? Nevertheless, the most common question posed to a sommelier is: what is the best way to judge the value of an object?