The Paradox of Beauty
Beauty is commonly defined as a subjective quality of particular objects, which makes these objects aesthetically pleasant to see. These objects include sunsets, landscapes, beautiful humans and creative works of art. Beauty, along with beauty and art, is often the prevailing theme of aesthetic studies, one of the most important branches of humanities. The word ‘beauty’ is taken from the Latin word ‘gaudium’, which means ‘glory or enjoyment’. It is therefore, possibly related to the word ‘admiration’ in English.
In the twentieth century, however, beauty has been associated with modernism. The twenty-first century, an era of unprecedented change, saw the dawn of new theories of beauty. In the United States of America, the dominant aesthetic theory of the time was ‘expressionism’. Expressionism made prominent displays of the natural beauty of America by including natural objects within its representational patterns. In this way, it attempted to overcome the modernist conception of beauty.
According to the expressionists, beauty comes from the eye and the mind of a person. In fact, the desire for beauty is inherent in all of us. Only our thoughts can limit us to beautiful objects. We are all born with an innate desire to be beautiful at the same time. Only through the activity of thinking, through reasoning and through observation can we recognize and define that desire for beauty that is inherent in all of us.
Modernists on the other hand, disagree with the belief that beauty is a subjective state of mind. They maintain that beauty exists independently of any individual and that it can only be seen by an individual. Beauty is seen only by the beholder and not by the one who lack the perception. In this way, both camps support the view that beauty is a subjective state of mind.
According to the Modernists, beauty lies in the ability of a work of art to make an object or an entire structure beautiful while not detracting from the necessities of life. It is only the beholder that sees beauty. A work of art makes objects beautiful by including parts of the surrounding world that are not immediately seen by the naked eye. It makes parts of an object beautiful through its representation of how that object would look to a beholder. Therefore, only the beholder can tell whether a painting is beautiful or not.
According to the Modernists, beauty is the result of a judgment that has been exercised and a definition that has been inscribed into the mind of man. Beauty therefore is something that has already been defined by the mind of a person. This means that beauty is independent of personal opinion and aesthetic sense. Beauty therefore is subjective. It is something that people feel or think about, rather than something that can be objectively measured.