Beauty in Art

Beauty is a term used to describe something that evokes an emotional response, whether it’s a painting, a piece of music, or even a smile.

It is a subjective feeling that may be triggered by any number of factors, including personal taste or culture. The word “beauty” is derived from the Greek words beauts, meaning “good” and artes, meaning “work.”

Aristotle distinguished beauty from good, arguing that it was an objective property of things whereas good was subjective (see Croce 1928). Thomas Aquinas also characterized beauty as an objective quality that required three elements: integrity or perfection, due proportion or consonance, and clarity.

This conception was first articulated in the Italian Renaissance, when it was applied to human bodies and objects of great artistic significance. It was a major shift from Aristotle’s emphasis on “form” and from the idea that aesthetic qualities could be measured or quantified.

In the early eighteenth century, a movement in philosophy sought to disentangle aesthetic qualities from ontological values such as truth and goodness, and to focus them instead on human sensibilities. Immanuel Kant was the leader of this movement, and he formulated the concept of aesthetics as an autonomous discipline, arguing that all human experience is mediated through the arts and that art has the potential to make the human mind better.

The theory of aesthetics was primarily developed in the classical philosophical tradition, but there has been a renewed interest in it over the last few decades, mainly in art and feminist-oriented reconstruals or reappropriations of the concept.

Beauty in Art

The question of whether beauty can be objective has long been a hotly debated topic, with several approaches to the issue being contested. Some of the most prominent philosophers of this period, such as Hume and Kant, saw that if aesthetic qualities were completely subjective and indeterminate, there would be no way to establish them as essential or recognizable values across persons or cultures.

A further problem with the subjective approach was that beauty can be easily degraded by alterations or modification of its features. If a pig’s snout were made into a wedge, or if a peacock feather was sculpted to have a specific function, these changes would make the animal less beautiful, and would even render it unsuitable for some purposes.

This is especially true when the underlying nature of beauty is changed, as when it is adapted to usefulness. A pig’s snout, for example, will be useless for digging; peacock feathers are not very useful for flying either.

But some people still believe that a work of art can be considered beautiful regardless of the originality or functionality of its features. This is an attempt to reestablish some of the objectivity that has been lost over the centuries when beauty was considered to be purely subjective.

In addition to the philosophical problems raised by the idea of beauty being objective, there are political entanglements as well. For example, in the 18th century, French revolutionaries used the notion of beauty as a means to critique the rich. It became a symbol of decadence, wealth, and excess (see Levey 1985). In the 20th century, beauty was often associated with capitalism, and the works of art it produced were often indebted to luxury consumption and social status rather than to aesthetics or to a concern for justice and equality.