Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.
Terms of Art #26:
Definition: Beauty is one of the most important and simultaneously one of the vaguest and most contested terms in all of aesthetics and philosophy of art.
(Maybe you’re wondering why it took till #26 to get here… well idk guys, they’re not in order of importance. I like theme weeks!)
Here are just some of the things that have been said about beauty:
- It’s in the eye of the beholder. (= it’s subjective, dependent on individual opinion)
- It is identical with moral goodness. (so probably not totally subjective)
- It is identical with moral goodness and with truth. (whatever that means)
- It’s the only way for things to be aesthetically valuable.
- It’s not. (think: some art is good but not beautiful)
- It is necessary for true human experience.
- It is the key to human freedom/peace/salvation/transcendence/whatever.
- It’s a way for cultural oppressors to dominate the oppressed.
- It’s just a psychological pleasure reaction.
- It’s only skin deep.
Where’s the consensus?
Beauty is – at the very least – a way that things can be aesthetically good. It often connotes pleasingness*, and concrete features like symmetry, balance, and harmony.
*as in, the beautiful thing produces pleasure/aims to produce pleasure/some overly technical variant of this thought, especially via the senses (like aesthetic, the word’s etymology is connected to senses)
Not to be confused with:
(1) (female) beauty – as opposed to handsomeness. Not only is this some serious gendered bullshit, but the term in aesthetics just means aesthetically good in a more general way. Paintings and music and buildings can be beautiful, and so can male bodies. It’s not inherently feminine or feminizing in any way.
(2) the beauty industry and beauty products – I guess arts and humanities departments are the real beauty industry?