Beauty is a feeling that can be experienced by many people in a variety of ways. It may include music, visual art, performance, or a person’s physical attributes. This feeling can be a pleasant experience, but it is not necessarily a good experience.
The Meaning of ‘Beauty’
The word ‘beauty’ can be defined as: “the idea of an object or experience that causes pleasure.” This definition is especially common in the United States, where it has been used to describe all kinds of experiences, from picking flowers in Montana to surfing a big wave on a Hawaiian beach.
This definition can also be interpreted as: “the sensation of liking something, or the idea that an object is pleasing to the eye.” This is a less common usage, but it is also often applied to feelings of liking.
Aristotle defines beauty as the “arrangement of parts into a whole” that displays symmetry and proportion. This conception of beauty is a common one in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, literature and music.
‘Beauty is an arrangement of parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony and symmetry,’ wrote Aristotle in the Poetics. He went on to say that ‘the chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness.’
Early Western philosophers, including Aristotle and Plato, took this approach to understanding beauty. Aristotle claimed that “a thing that is beautiful, is a whole in which all its parts have been so related as to be well adapted for use” (Poetics, volume 2, 2322 [1450b34]).
Kant rejected the Greek and Medieval objectivist approach, instead adopting a’subjective universal’ that avoided the tendency to identify the idea of beauty with specific features of an objective thing. He also argued that the concept of beauty is not fixed or absolute; rather, it is a “subjective” judgment.
He argues that the beauty of an object does not only depend on what features it has, but also on the pleasures that it causes. This view of beauty is similar to that of Santayana, who argued that “pleasure is the greatest form of beauty.”
The twentieth century saw an abandonment of this idea and a rise in theories of ‘use’ that attempted to delineate the distinction between art and craft. This arose in response to the aestheticization of art and craft, which led artists to believe that they should pursue more serious and urgent projects.
This new theory of ‘use’ argued that a work of art should be beautiful not only because it is aesthetically pleasing, but also because it serves a practical purpose. It also emphasized the importance of aesthetic qualities that could not be measured or appreciated by the eyes alone, such as the beauty of line.
While this theory of ‘use’ was largely successful in its attempt to break down the aesthetic barrier between fine art and craft, it also caused some problems. It is difficult to reconcile this ‘use’ conception of beauty with a philosophy that seeks to understand the world as an essentially rational and scientific place, and it can exacerbate the divide between the’real’ and the ‘fake’.