Beauty – Defined
The word beauty has different meanings for different people. For some it is merely the eyes of an object, for others it is the shape or outline of an object, and for still others it is the emotional response one gets when looking at an object. Beauty is most commonly defined as a subjective attribute of things that makes these things aesthetically pleasing to see. These things could be humans, landscapes, art and work of art. Beauty, along with aesthetic sense and art, is perhaps the oldest of all the fields of psychology. It was Charles Darwin who first put forward the theory of natural selection by arguing, “Men are the descendants of beautiful women”.
According to this view, beauty is a subjective quality of an object which, though having no objective foundation, gives human beings a feeling of attraction towards it. It is a highly important component of human nature and is present in all aspects of life. Darwin’s view is obviously important because it forms the basis for a whole spectrum of moral and artistic opinions. Eminent philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Leo Tolstoy and Jean Claude Vanier considered beauty to be the heart of the individual, the soul of the human being and the central point of personal worth and achievement.
The question arises as to whether there is a fixed or variable definition of beauty. The dictionary suggests that beauty is a subjective feeling or emotion and so is a definition of beauty. Though the meaning of beauty varies according to persons and their culture, an object’s beauty does not vary with time and place. Beauty, according to the common understanding, includes the physical beauty of an object, but many philosophers argue that beauty is neither physical nor subjective. In fact beauty exists independent of our knowledge and so is not a thing or a person.
According to the philosophers, beauty is subjective, because beauty depends on the beholder, and because it is an emotional experience rather than an intellectual one. Beauty as such is not a matter of objective truth; beauty lies deeply in the hearts of people. Beauty is subjective in nature, but the object is not – at least, it cannot be objective, since it cannot be seen by the eye.
This is not to say that the object cannot be appreciated by the eye. That is possible, but only if the beauty of the work of art is measured in terms of its ability to produce the impression desired by the admirer. This is, of course, an opinion which can be very disagreeable. It must be borne in mind that the object is not necessarily beautiful in the eyes of the vulgar. Beauty exists in the mind of a person and beauty – i.e., the quality of delight one feels in the beauty – must be judged by the person who appreciates beauty.
The word beauty has many meanings. To a philosopher, beauty might mean the harmony of the parts in the form of a wholesome whole, a symmetrical pattern. To a realist, beauty may mean the beauty of natural forms. A painter may consider his canvas to be beautiful if the effect he is trying to portray is that of beauty – i.e., if the work is produced in such a way that it makes the viewer feel as if he or she is looking at a work of art, rather than at some ten-year old child painting on canvas. Beauty to one man is a vague concept, whereas to another, a work of beauty might be physical and tangible things like water or stone or the sun.