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What is Art? and/or What is Beauty?

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❶Works of art are only good or bad, beautiful or ugly in themselves, to the extent that they are or are not well and truly made, that is, do or do not express, or do or do not serve their purpose. I observed a further piece that did not have an obvious label.

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Argumentative essay: What Is Beauty? Essay Sample

Turning our eyes to the vegetable kingdom, we find nothing there so beautiful as flowers; but flowers are of every sort of shape, and every sort of disposition; they are turned and fashioned into an infinite variety of forms.

But what shall we say of the peacock, who has comparatively but a short neck, with a tail longer than the neck and the rest of the body taken together? There are many ways to interpret Plato's relation to classical aesthetics. The political system sketched in The Republic characterizes justice in terms of the relation of part and whole. But Plato was also no doubt a dissident in classical culture, and the account of beauty that is expressed specifically in The Symposium —perhaps the key Socratic text for neo-Platonism and for the idealist conception of beauty—expresses an aspiration toward beauty as perfect unity.

In the midst of a drinking party, Socrates recounts the teachings of his instructress, one Diotima, on matters of love. She connects the experience of beauty to the erotic or the desire to reproduce Plato, —59 [Symposium c—e]. But the desire to reproduce is associated in turn with a desire for the immortal or eternal: Because this is the one deathless and eternal element in our mortality.

What follows is, if not classical, at any rate classic:. The candidate for this initiation cannot, if his efforts are to be rewarded, begin too early to devote himself to the beauties of the body.

First of all, if his preceptor instructs him as he should, he will fall in love with the beauty of one individual body, so that his passion may give life to noble discourse. Next he must consider how nearly related the beauty of any one body is to the beauty of any other, and he will see that if he is to devote himself to loveliness of form it will be absurd to deny that the beauty of each and every body is the same. Having reached this point, he must set himself to be the lover of every lovely body, and bring his passion for the one into due proportion by deeming it of little or no importance.

Next he must grasp that the beauties of the body are as nothing to the beauties of the soul, so that wherever he meets with spiritual loveliness, even in the husk of an unlovely body, he will find it beautiful enough to fall in love with and cherish—and beautiful enough to quicken in his heart a longing for such discourse as tends toward the building of a noble nature. And from this he will be led to contemplate the beauty of laws and institutions.

And when he discovers how every kind of beauty is akin to every other he will conclude that the beauty of the body is not, after all, of so great moment. And so, when his prescribed devotion to boyish beauties has carried our candidate so far that the universal beauty dawns upon his inward sight, he is almost within reach of the final revelation. And if, my dear Socrates, Diotima went on, man's life is ever worth living, it is when he has attained this vision of the very soul of beauty.

Plato, —63 [Symposium a—d]. Beauty here is conceived—perhaps explicitly in contrast to the classical aesthetics of integral parts and coherent whole—as perfect unity, or indeed as the principle of unity itself.

Plotinus, as we have already seen, comes close to equating beauty with formedness per se: Plotinus specifically attacks what we have called the classical conception of beauty:. Almost everyone declares that the symmetry of parts towards each other and towards a whole, with, besides, a certain charm of colour, constitutes the beauty recognized by the eye, that in visible things, as indeed in all else, universally, the beautiful thing is essentially symmetrical, patterned.

Only a compound can be beautiful, never anything devoid of parts; and only a whole; the several parts will have beauty, not in themselves, but only as working together to give a comely total. Yet beauty in an aggregate demands beauty in details; it cannot be constructed out of ugliness; its law must run throughout.

All the loveliness of colour and even the light of the sun, being devoid of parts and so not beautiful by symmetry, must be ruled out of the realm of beauty.

And how comes gold to be a beautiful thing? And lightning by night, and the stars, why are these so fair? In sounds also the simple must be proscribed, though often in a whole noble composition each several tone is delicious in itself. Plotinus, 21 [Ennead 1. This gave rise to a basically mystical vision of the beauty of God that, as Umberto Eco has argued, persisted alongside an anti-aesthetic asceticism throughout the Middle Ages: In the sixth century, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite characterized the whole of creation as yearning toward God; the universe is called into being by love of God as beauty Pseudo-Dionysius, 4.

Eco quotes Suger, Abbot of St Denis in the twelfth century, describing a richly-appointed church:. Thus, when—out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God—the loveliness of the many-colored gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: This conception has had many expressions in the modern era, including in such figures as Shaftesbury, Schiller, and Hegel, according to whom the aesthetic or the experience of art and beauty is a primary bridge or to use the Platonic image, stairway or ladder between the material and the spiritual.

For Shaftesbury, there are three levels of beauty: For we ourselves are notable architects in matter, and can show lifeless bodies brought into form, and fashioned by our own hands, but that which fashions even minds themselves, contains in itself all the beauties fashioned by those minds, and is consequently the principle, source, and fountain of all beauty.

Schiller's expression of a similar series of thoughts was fundamentally influential on the conceptions of beauty developed within German Idealism:. The pre-rational concept of Beauty, if such a thing be adduced, can be drawn from no actual case—rather does itself correct and guide our judgement concerning every actual case; it must therefore be sought along the path of abstraction, and it can be inferred simply from the possibility of a nature that is both sensuous and rational; in a word, Beauty must be exhibited as a necessary condition of humanity.

Beauty … makes of man a whole, complete in himself. For Schiller, beauty or play or art he uses the words, rather cavalierly, almost interchangeably performs the process of integrating or rendering compatible the natural and the spiritual, or the sensuous and the rational: But Schiller—though this is at times unclear—is more concerned with integrating the realms of nature and spirit than with transcending the level of physical reality entirely, a la Plato.

It is beauty and art that performs this integration. In this and in other ways—including the tripartite dialectical structure of the view—Schiller strikingly anticipates Hegel, who writes as follows.

The philosophical Concept of the beautiful, to indicate its true nature at least in a preliminary way, must contain, reconciled within itself, both the extremes which have been mentioned [the ideal and the empirical] because it unites metaphysical universality with real particularity.

Beauty, we might say, or artistic beauty at any rate, is a route from the sensuous and particular to the Absolute and to freedom, from finitude to the infinite, formulations that—while they are influenced by Schiller—strikingly recall Shaftesbury, Plotinus, and Plato. That is, the natural world is born of God, but the beauty of art transforms that material again by the spirit of the artist.

This idea reaches is apogee in Benedetto Croce, who very nearly denies that nature can ever be beautiful, or at any rate asserts that the beauty of nature is a reflection of the beauty of art.

As we have seen, in almost all treatments of beauty, even the most apparently object or objectively-oriented, there is a moment in which the subjective qualities of the experience of beauty are emphasized: For example, we have already seen Plotinus, for whom beauty is certainly not subjective, describe the experience of beauty ecstatically. In the idealist tradition, the human soul, as it were, recognizes in beauty its true origin and destiny. Among the Greeks, the connection of beauty with love is proverbial from early myth, and Aphrodite the goddess of love won the Judgment of Paris by promising Paris the most beautiful woman in the world.

There is an historical connection between idealist accounts of beauty and those that connect it to love and longing, though there would seem to be no entailment either way. We have Sappho's famous fragment Plato's discussions of beauty in the Symposium and the Phaedrus occur in the context of the theme of erotic love. Love is portrayed as a lack or absence that seeks its own fulfillment in beauty: Love is always in a state of lack and hence of desire: Then if this state of infinite longing could be trained on the truth, we would have a path to wisdom.

The basic idea has been recovered many times, for example by the Romantics. It fueled the cult of idealized or courtly love through the Middle Ages, in which the beloved became a symbol of the infinite. Recent work on the theory of beauty has revived this idea, and turning away from pleasure has turned toward love or longing which are not necessarily entirely pleasurable experiences as the experiential correlate of beauty.

Both Sartwell and Nehamas use Sappho's fragment 16 as an epigraph. He calls it a fundamental condition of a finite being in time, where we are always in the process of losing whatever we have, and are thus irremediably in a state of longing. I think of beauty as the emblem of what we lack, the mark of an art that speaks to our desire.

Thinkers of the 18 th century—many of them oriented toward empiricism—accounted for beauty in terms of pleasure. In Hutcheson it is not clear whether we ought to conceive beauty primarily in terms of classical formal elements or in terms of the viewer's pleasurable response. The only Pleasure of sense, which our Philosophers seem to consider, is that which accompanys the simple Ideas of Sensation; But there are vastly greater Pleasures in those complex Ideas of objects, which obtain the Names of Beautiful, Regular, Harmonious.

Thus every one acknowledges he is more delighted with a fine Face, a just Picture, than with the View of any one Colour, were it as strong and lively as possible; and more pleased with a Prospect of the Sun arising among settled Clouds, and colouring their Edges, with a starry Hemisphere, a fine Landskip, a regular Building, than with a clear blue Sky, a smooth Sea, or a large open Plain, not diversify'd by Woods, Hills, Waters, Buildings: And yet even these latter Appearances are not quite simple.

So in Musick, the Pleasure of fine Composition is incomparably greater than that of any one Note, how sweet, full, or swelling soever. But of course the idea of pleasure could come apart from Hutcheson's particular aesthetic preferences, which are poised precisely opposite Plotinus's, for example.

That we find pleasure in a symmetrical rather than an asymmetrical building if we do is contingent. But that beauty is connected to pleasure appears, according to Hutcheson, to be necessary, and the pleasure which is the locus of beauty itself has ideas rather than things as its object. Beauty is such an order and construction of parts as, either by the primary constitution of our nature, by custom, or by caprice, is fitted to give a pleasure and satisfaction to the soul.

Indeed, by the time of Kant's Third Critique and after that for perhaps two centuries, the direct connection of beauty to pleasure is taken as a commonplace, to the point where thinkers are frequently identifying beauty as a certain sort of pleasure. Santayana, for example, as we have seen, while still gesturing in the direction of the object or experience that causes pleasure, emphatically identifies beauty as a certain sort of pleasure.

Hume and Kant were no sooner declaring beauty to be a matter of sentiment or pleasure and therefore to be subjective than they were trying to ameliorate the sting, largely by emphasizing critical consensus. But once this fundamental admission is made, any consensus is contingent. Another way to formulate this is that it appears to certain thinkers after Hume and Kant that there can be no reasons to prefer the consensus to a counter-consensus assessment. It follows…that there is no sense attributing objective validity to aesthetic judgments, and no possibility of arguing about questions of value in aesthetics.

All meaningful claims either concern the meaning of terms or are empirical, in which case they are meaningful because observations could confirm or disconfirm them. It merely expresses a positive attitude of a particular viewer; it is an expression of pleasure, like a satisfied sigh. The question of beauty is not a genuine question, and we can safely leave it behind or alone.

Most twentieth-century philosophers did just that. Philosophers in the Kantian tradition identify the experience of beauty with disinterested pleasure, psychical distance, and the like, and contrast the aesthetic with the practical. Edward Bullough distinguishes the beautiful from the merely agreeable on the grounds that the former requires a distance from practical concerns: On the other hand, many philosophers have gone in the opposite direction and have identified beauty with suitedness to use.

According to Diogenes Laertius, the ancient hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene took a rather direct approach. Is not then, also, a beautiful woman useful in proportion as she is beautiful; and a boy and a youth useful in proportion to their beauty?

Well then, a handsome boy and a handsome youth must be useful exactly in proportion as they are handsome. Now the use of beauty is, to be embraced. If then a man embraces a woman just as it is useful that he should, he does not do wrong; nor, again, will he be doing wrong in employing beauty for the purposes for which it is useful.

In some ways, Aristippus is portrayed parodically: And yet the idea of beauty as suitedness to use finds expression in a number of thinkers. Xenophon's Memorabilia puts the view in the mouth of Socrates, with Aristippus as interlocutor:. In short everything which we use is considered both good and beautiful from the same point of view, namely its use. Of course it is, and a golden shield is ugly, if the one be beautifully fitted to its purpose and the other ill.

Xenophon, Book III, viii. Berkeley expresses a similar view in his dialogue Alciphron , though he begins with the hedonist conception: But it pleases for reasons of usefulness. Thus, as Xenophon suggests, on this view, things are beautiful only in relation to the uses for which they are intended or to which they are properly applied.

The proper proportions of an object depend on what kind of object it is, and again a beautiful ox would make an ugly horse. Choose an optimal rate and be sure to get the unlimited number of samples immediately without having to wait in the waiting list. Get Full Essay Get access to this section to get all help you need with your essay and educational issues. Copying is only available for logged-in users. If you need this sample for free, we can send it to you via email Send. All Materials are Cataloged Well.

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We are really sorry but we cannot send the sample immediately. Only the users having paid subscription get the unlimited number of samples immediately. Choose a Membership Plan I agree to wait a whole day. Your membership has been canceled. Would you like to get such a paper? How about getting a customized one? Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger. University of Chicago Press, The readings provide a good introduction to various conceptions of beauty as a general value.

Edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic Lopes, — London and New York: Edited by Peter Kivy, — Setting out the change in focus in philosophical aesthetics between the 19th and 20th century, Mothersill then proceeds to analyze beauty with a view to its significance for understanding aesthetic value in relation to art.

Edited by Michael Kelly. Oxford University Press, In the course of setting out the historical foundations to the concept beauty, we are provided with an excellent summary of the key concepts that still dominate or underpin philosophical aesthetics, including pleasure, desire, the good, disinterest, taste, and value.

Available at Oxford Art Online by subscription. Pleasure, Preference and Value. Cambridge University Press, A series of essays by prominent philosophers on the nature of aesthetic value, which are very useful as an introduction to the study of value theory, including essays on taste, pleasure, aesthetic interest, aesthetic realism, and aesthetic objectivity.

Edited by Jerrold Levinson, — An introduction to the tradition of analytic approaches to value theory, beauty is analyzed into its components and relationships, and its status considered in terms of subjectivity and objectivity.

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Definition Essay on Beauty

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Is beauty both skin deep and in the eye of the beholder? Nehamas distinguishes between surface beauty and deep beauty. Kant thought that if we think something is beautiful then .

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Definition Essay on Beauty Beauty is a concept that has long been theorized about by a wide variety of philosophers. From the Ancient Greeks to the post-modernist Nietzche, humans throughout history have had differing perceptions of beauty.

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The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice. Beauty begins with confidence. Confidence begins with inner peace. This inner peace influences natural beauty which is all about the body and face given by God. Among women, natural beauty is merely embellished and enhanced by make up. Make up does not alter the original symmetry of the face or body.

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Although during the 20th century beauty was more likely to be conceived as an evaluative concept for art, recent philosophical interest in beauty can again be seen to exercise arguments pertaining to metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, philosophy of meaning, and language in addition to philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics. This view of beauty not being universal was presented by Plato. According to his views, beauty is something that Continue reading › Definition Essay on Beauty. By Lauren Bradshaw. August 27, Sample Essays. A common English saying is that “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. This statement is accurate in the sense that.