Beauty is the combination of qualities that appeal to our aesthetic senses, especially our sight. It can be physical or spiritual, and can involve a variety of expressions.
Throughout history, beauty has been a subject of debate. From the hedonist aesthetics of French Rococo to the feminist critique of modern fashion, beauty has been associated with many different things and often with negative effects.
Aesthetics, in its earliest stages, attempted to explain what makes something beautiful by examining the structure and proportion of its parts. For example, Aristotle argued that a statue was beautiful when it had a perfect proportion. The same principles were applied to architectural designs.
While philosophers in the past have debated how we should understand beauty, most agree that it is a response to certain properties of objects and experiences that are beyond our immediate observation or control. Objects are considered to be beautiful when they are seen as having particular qualities that provoke a specific kind of pleasure, such as love or adoration.
Transcendental definitions of beauty, in contrast, look for the unseen and ultimate qualities of truth and goodness. If truth corresponds to reality, and goodness is how reality should be loved, then beauty is the result of these two convergent aspects of reality.
These definitions place a great deal of emphasis on the synthesis of these aspects. Thus, a work of art might be called beautiful because it has the qualities of truth and goodness, or because it reflects these values in some way.
In this case, the experience of beauty is not primarily within the skull of the observer, but rather connects observers and objects such as works of art and literature in communities of appreciation. This accounts for the various kinds of pleasure that a work of art can bring, as well as for its ability to call out a sense of delight or awe in those who view it.
This approach is reminiscent of the ancient Greek notion that beauty was the result of rational order and harmonious proportions (the golden ratio). Aristotle believed that this meant that a statue had to be perfectly aligned with its environment, and he proposed an art treatise on proportion in the Canon.
The idea of harmony was not limited to aesthetics; it was also a crucial element in the development of the science of medicine. The scientific understanding of beauty as a reaction to a certain set of conditions led to the invention of such medical procedures as hygienic surgery and ophthalmic surgery, among others.
It is a good idea to keep an open mind when thinking about what constitutes beauty. For example, some people have a color-blindness and can’t see what a certain color looks like to another person, or to an object under different circumstances: at noon or midnight for instance.
It is equally important to realize that a work of art might be considered beautiful when it is not necessarily designed to do anything specifically. In fact, the concept of beauty is often used to criticize the distinction between fine art and craft, a distinction that has become increasingly problematic in the twentieth century.