History of Beauty in Art and Philosophy

Beauty is a very personal concept. We each have our own ideas of what is beautiful, but those ideas can be influenced by the culture we live in and by other people around us. Throughout history, beauty has been associated with a variety of ideas and ideals. For example, in the past, beauty was linked to youth, body type and race, but today, beauty has been shifted towards being more inclusive of everyone.

In the ancient Greek city-states, the citizens used to practice rituals that were meant to make them feel beautiful. These included exercising, drinking water with honey and smelling flowers. In addition, the cities had a daily bathing schedule that was meant to make the citizens feel fresh and clean. These rituals were also thought to help in the development of wisdom, courage and strength – all important aspects of beauty.

For some philosophers, beauty was seen as a way to connect with the spiritual or abstract. Plato‚Äôs ‘ladder’, for instance, was a notion of beauty that allowed the human being to ascend to the divine realm of Forms. Other philosophers, such as Schiller, saw beauty or play or art as a process of integrating or rendering compatible the realms of nature and spirit.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the idea of beauty was entangled with notions of pleasure and emotion. This association was perhaps largely due to the empiricist philosophers, such as Locke, who argued that beauty was dependent upon subjective response and not on objective criteria. The empiricists, in fact, believed that beauty was a phantasm of the perceiving mind and that color, for example, was a quality created by the perceiver (instead of an attribute of the object itself).

Other philosophers, such as Diogenes Laertius and the ancient hedonist Aristippus, defined beauty through its usefulness or suitedness to its use. They argued that things like the dung-basket or the troll doll might be considered beautiful if they were enjoyable.

There was a revival of interest in beauty in both art and philosophy beginning in the 1990s, with the concept undergoing a reconstrual or a reappropriation in feminist and social-justice oriented philosophical circles. Contemporary feminist theorists and philosophers have recognized that the impulse to beauty is both liberating and enslaving. It is capable of destabilizing rigid conventions and restrictive behavioral models, but it can also reinforce them. It is, therefore, an issue that needs a careful approach to evaluate its various associations and implications.