Beauty – An Introduction
Beauty is commonly defined as the aesthetic quality of certain objects, which makes these objects pleasant to see. Such objects may include sunsets, landscapes, humans and other works of art. Beauty, along with beauty and art, is perhaps the most important theme of aesthetics, among the various branches of art history. It has played a big role in defining the concepts of aesthetics since the beginning of artistic expression.
In the early twentieth century German philosopher Martin Hecker pointed out that beauty as an object cannot be judged by an objective standard. Beauty, he claimed, is a subjective state dependent upon the person’s point of view. According to Hecker, beauty depends on the “inner need” of an object. He further goes on to say, “There can be no definition of beauty” because “its definition is a value judgment.” This essay seeks to provide an explanation for the concepts of beauty in relation to the work of both classical and modern art.
An object is said to be beautiful when it satisfies the needs or wants of its human audience. Aesthetic appreciation of the object depends on the ability to imagine and appreciate the object according to its own nature. This ability is a complex one, which I will not try to describe here. The ability to appreciate beauty is also related to the ability to experience beauty: the capacity to feel the presence of beauty, to appreciate its effect on the body, and to be affected by it. Beauty is experienced and perceived in the context of a human being and the human world.
Beauty is a subjective concept; beauty is not a fixed, external quality that one can behold and measure. Aesthetic appreciation of beauty depends on the ability to realize the beauty of an object on the basis of its own nature. A beautiful object is one that has a natural or particular beauty, and that can be understood and appreciated only in the context of the object’s own nature. A beautiful person, for example, is a person who resembles the description of beauty as preserved in some physical form. This definition of beauty, which is necessarily political and social, excludes bodies with absolutely no shape, for example; and it also includes objects shaped vaguely or artistically, such as pieces of wood or stone.
To complicate matters, beauty as an aesthetic sense may be defined as something that is seen or heard, and not something that can be understood and appreciated on its own terms. But this problematic complication does not reduce beauty’s definition to nothing. A beautiful object can be appreciated on its own terms, without having to recourse to beauty’s other definitions. A beautiful painting, for instance, is not beauty in the strictest sense, but its aesthetic power is seen in the way we respond to it, in its own right.
Aesthetics have become closely associated, perhaps because they are related in the space of concepts. Art, in general, describes the visual aspects of experience, while aesthetics describes the human tastes and emotions that go along with that experience. The two are intertwined in a complicated manner that goes beyond the definition of beauty itself. In contemporary society, art and beauty are often used to justify political, technological, and religious beliefs. And in a strange way, their definition duets with that of religious fundamentalism.