The Meaning of Beauty in Modern Art
Beauty is often defined as a subjective quality of certain objects, which makes these objects enjoyable to see. Such objects can be natural, man-made or even works of art. Beauty, along with beauty, is also the main theme of aesthetics, another of the major branches of science. The word ‘beauty’ is derived from the Greek word ‘britis’ meaning beautiful. Today, beauty is often used as an aesthetic quality by most people.
In the early part of the twentieth century, the term beauty began to be associated more with the aesthetic and subjective theories of value. Aesthetic theory believes that beauty is a highly personal concept, dependent on the particular culture and historical periods in which an object is situated. Subjective theory, on the other hand, believes that beauty is a universal, unproblematic concept, independent of culture and time. However, these two theories contradict each other. On the one hand, aesthetic theories support a subjective idea of beauty, whereas on the other hand, subjective theories deny beauty as a true, objective quality.
During the early part of the twentieth century, a number of magazines and paintings showed the hidden beauty of objects through their metaphors. Manet’s famous painting, “The Little Engine That Could,” demonstrates this concept in a charming allegory. The beautiful woman in the painting has her hair gathered up into a bun on top of her head, a feathered hat resting upon her brow, and her feet propped up on the window sill of her bedroom. The elements of her appearance – the hair, hat and feathery background; the insignificant way the feathers rest upon the hair – imply that she is not really a real human being, but a mere thing, merely a canvas upon which the painter has painted her most appealing images.
In his book, Manet claimed that there were three primary prerequisites for beauty: pleasure, admiration and desire. He claimed that all other values were merely accessories and that the true value of beauty was found in the first two forms. We could say that the desire for beauty is the motivation that inspires the painter to create. In the case of Manet’s “The Little Engine,” the desire springs not from a lack of material possessions, but rather from a desire to own a beautiful woman. What happens when the desire becomes a reality is highlighted in the last stanza of his masterpiece: “The hours of sleep have taken me; the work has been done for me.”
The beauty ideals expressed by Manet still echo today. In advertising, beauty is almost always equated with money. It is considered a symbol of success and affluence. Beauty as an ideal is also associated with beauty therapy, and the idea of beauty is often used to promote healing practices. An advertisement for a particular beauty therapy can often be seen on billboards, television screens, book covers, and clothing.
Although the definition of beauty varies across cultures and societies, beauty ideals have become common grounds for many cultures. Even within countries, there are still differing definitions of beauty. For instance, in Japan, beauty is defined differently than it is in the West. In China, beauty is seen to exist in proportion to wealth and power, while for the Taiwanese, beauty is connected with naturalness.