Thursday, April 28, 2005

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder or is it a law of nature?

Ok take a seat. This might make absolutely no sense whatsoever. But, it makes sense in my head so you just have to deal with it.

I look in the mirror every morning. I study my face while I put on my makeup and do my hair. To some people I am the definition of beauty. To others I might be just the ugliest thing ever made. It is an entirely personal opinion as beauty as always been personal throughout time.

The question is what makes us think someone or something is beautiful? Obviously there is no universal standard for beauty. I might think a guy is hot while one of my girlfriends would think I am nuts. Even the beauty of art is not universal. My brother and my sister-in-law have very opposing views about what art is beautiful. Everything is personal.

However, what is universal is what we associate beauty with now and at various times throughout history. “Beauty” was perceived as being close to or the same thing as “good.” “Good” things are not only what we like but also what we would like to acquire for ourselves. Love, wealth, happy experiences and fine objects can all be considered “good,” and therefore “good" can be described as anything that stimulates our desire. We desire the “beautiful.”

Before I come across as shallow remember the idea of beauty is not limited to people but rather a concept to describe various situations, art, scenes in nature, and people. The idea of a beautiful thing is something that would make us happy if it were ours but remains beautiful even if it belongs to someone else. Everyone can see the sunset as beautiful even if they do not own it.

In ancient Greece, the aesthetic ideal was described by various philosophers as having “harmony” and “symmetry.” What was beautiful in Greece was so important they claimed, “Only that which is beautiful is loved,” and “the most beautiful is the most just.” The Beauty ideals of the Greek bodies were, as Plato described, in Harmony and proportion. However, all it takes is to see what they considered beautiful to understand what they meant by proportion. The sculptures they had of the human body portrayed muscular men and soft curvy woman. Geometrical shapes were also very popular.

The idea of a well proportioned thing or person as beautiful spans even to modern day. The Pythagoreans looked at numbers as they relate to beauty. They claimed that all things exist because they are ordered. Essentially, they are the realization of mathematical laws, which are a condition of existence and of beauty. A statue in Greece, called the Canon embodies all the rules of correct proportion, or perfect ratio, in all of its parts.

But what about other types of beauty? In the 18th century many pieces of art represented the combination of beautiful things with terror, the devil and death. Aristotle explained why images in art, such as horrific volcanoes provoked a feeling of fear and pity. This made the person viewing the art feel cathartic. This idea of beauty is called the Sublime. Those feelings of fear without actually having experienced that, which one fears, made it beautiful. Sounds crazy…yeah. But think about how many people love the thrill of skydiving or the two-hour fright fest of a scary movie. It is cathartic and according to Aristotle it was beautiful.

So does this answer what is beautiful? Hardly. Is it something that is mathematically proportioned? The artists of the renaissance seem to think so. Or is something more? Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder? Is it something the spectator feels that makes the object or person beautiful? I know I don’t have the answers. But the questions sure are fun.


Hobbes said...

Just a quick note to say that enjoy your writing style! Very witty! :) Makes a person laugh while thinking... ;)

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