Beauty is an essential aspect of our human existence. It has shaped the cultural, political, economic and religious development of societies across time. It has also been subject to a wide range of criticism and reassessment.
Throughout history, what is and is not considered beautiful has changed dramatically. This has led to a range of aesthetic principles and philosophers who have tried to define and refine what it means to be beautiful.
The term beauty can refer to anything that is pleasing to the eye, but it can also be interpreted to mean a specific aesthetic quality that makes an object attractive. This is a broad range of qualities including colour, texture, form, size, shape, line and pattern.
For example, the term beautiful is used to describe a person or an object that has symmetry or an even colour. This can be the case with a painting or a photograph.
Some people believe that beauty is an objective property and that it can be measured by science, while others think that it is subjective and can only be defined by the viewer’s own perception of it.
Those who believe that it is objective argue that a piece of art can be considered beautiful if it is made in a way that reflects the artist’s vision and that it evokes feelings of pleasure or delight.
This view has been criticized as lacking a critical lens or perspective and is often regarded as philistinism, which seeks to justify the creation of objects with the sole purpose of being beautiful.
The classical conception of beauty, found most explicitly in the Italian Renaissance, holds that the parts of an object should stand in a certain proportion to each other, creating an overall harmonious whole.
Many of these concepts are still in use today, especially when referring to paintings and sculptures. The renowned sculptor Polykleitos, for instance, was held up as the exemplar of perfect proportions in the fifth/fourth century BCE.
However, this conception is flawed in that it places the beholder’s perception of beauty in a direct and uncritical relationship to the object itself. This is not only false, but it can have dangerous implications for the beholder.
Another approach to beauty is a more speculative one that treats it as a process of transformation or an expression of an inner desire. Taking inspiration from the philosophy of Augustine, some accounts such as Plotinus’s in the Enneads connect beauty to an emotional response of desire or love.
A third concept of beauty is a psychological one that takes inspiration from the work of psychologists such as Freud and Jung. Psychologists are able to recognize an individual’s psychological responses and emotions by examining their responses to specific stimuli.
For example, if someone is feeling lonely and needs company, they might be attracted to a particular type of music or to an image of themselves on a wall. The psychology of these processes can be quite complex and can be difficult to pin down, but a sense of beauty is often a key element in those feelings.