Beauty is the idea of something that is aesthetically pleasing or desirable. The idea of beauty has a long and diverse history in philosophy, art, and cultural theory.
The concept of beauty can be traced back to the ancient world and to classical philosophical thought in particular, though it has been re-interpreted throughout time by different philosophers. In the modern era, the subject of beauty has become more associated with the pleasures that people get from beautiful objects.
1. Aesthetic Principles and Philosophers
One of the best ways to think about what it means to be aesthetically pleasing is to explore the work of aesthetic principles and philosophers who have shaped our ideas about beauty. The goal is to understand how a particular philosophy, principle, or theory has influenced your own perception of what constitutes a beautiful object and how that perspective influences your view of the world around you.
2. Defining Beauty
In the earliest days of Western civilization, many of the major figures in the study of aesthetics made clear that there is a distinction between things that are physically beautiful and those that are aesthetically pleasing. Essentially, things that are physically beautiful are those that have an intrinsic physical quality (such as shape or form) that can’t be derived from anything external to the object.
This distinction is crucial to our understanding of what makes something beautiful. This is because it gives us a way to distinguish between things that are physically pleasing and those that are not.
Moreover, it allows us to think about the importance of aesthetic values such as symmetry and proportion in defining something as beautiful. These are fundamental qualities that can be found in many of the works of art that we are studying in this course.
3. Aesthetics as a Political Act
In addition to its aesthetic importance, beauty is a very important political concept. Historically, it has played a significant role in the establishment of certain economic and social policies and has been used as a tool for discrimination against certain groups.
The emergence of these ideas of beauty was particularly prominent in the 18th century, when the rise of the French revolution brought forth a widespread association between beauty and wealth and decadence. This was reflected in paintings of the Rococo period and in the work of great artists such as Fragonard.
4. The Politics of Beauty
Despite its importance, the concept of beauty has been a controversial subject in politics. It has been used to oppress individuals, and has also been used as a tool for resistance. The slogan “Black is beautiful” suggests this use of the idea.
It has also been the subject of criticism for its role in promoting racism and discrimination against some people. This is especially true when people of color are discriminated against for their skin color or appearance.
Today, there is a growing interest in rehabilitating and re-thinking the idea of beauty. This has been facilitated in part by feminist and anti-racist attacks on conventional body norms. Young women, for example, are packing their closets with mini-skirts and sensible suits in an effort to break down these stereotypes.