Beauty is a quality or combination of qualities that gives pleasure to the senses and/or mind, such as harmony of form or color, proportion, authenticity, and originality. Often, it is perceived as an attribute of a work of art or other artistic creation.
The concept of beauty is found in many cultures and traditions, and it has been an important value since the beginning of civilization. In Western culture, it is largely based on a classical conception, which asserts that beauty consists of the harmonious arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole.
This notion of beauty is embodied in ancient Greek philosophy and was firmly anchored in the West through the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. It has been shaped by various interpretations, from a naturalistic perspective to one rooted in theology.
In the Christian tradition, beauty is understood as the manifestation of Goodness and Truth (the union of order and purpose), which must come from God. This conception of beauty is broader than the classical aesthetic, which focuses only on symmetry and similar notions.
Moreover, beauty is a subjective experience that varies from person to person, even in the same individual’s perception of a same object. As David Hume wrote in Essays, Moral, Political and Literary (1758), ‘Nothing exists in things which is not capable of being experienced as beautiful by some mind.’
Aspects of beauty that are associated with pleasure include: a pleasing sense of the shape, contours, or size of an object; a pleasing color; a pleasant scent; and an appealing musical tone. Some of these aspects of beauty are objective, such as the symmetrical relation of parts to each other, or the golden ratio; others are subjective, such as a particular sense of rhythm or the radiance of light.
The modern philosophical treatment of beauty shifted its focus to the sphere of human sensibility, a move that is reflected in the term “aesthetics” and which was coined by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762). With this shift, the concept of beauty was separated from ontological components such as truth, goodness, love, being and the divine.
As a result, the contemporary account of beauty is characterized by its acceptance of subjectivity and volition, the rejection of tyrannical notions of taste, and its tolerance of variance in the experiences of different people. It also allows that some experiences of beauty are more profound or more important than others.