Beauty is a subjective word that suggests nothing definite and finite. It is often used to describe the aesthetic qualities of objects which make these objects enjoyable to see. These objects may be works of art, landscapes, humans or other objects. Beauty, along with taste and art, is the most important area of aesthetics, among the major branches of modern philosophy. Philosophy is concerned with questions concerning what exists in the world as a whole and in a particular context, while aesthetics deals with how an object may affect a person’s emotions and how this affects the person’s perception and appreciation of the object.
The word ‘beauty’ has various meanings. It can mean natural beauty, artistic beauty, the beauty of a picture, the beauty of a meal or the beauty of a dance. In aesthetic terms, beauty includes a subjective quality of beauty that cannot be quantified and therefore is not a science. For instance, the word ‘beautiful’ can mean the lovely sight of a sunset or the graceful swan’s wings. We can appreciate such things as being beautiful because they are part of our daily experience.
Art historians and ethnographers distinguish between different aesthetic values, for example beauty, value or purity, genuineness, importance and novelty. They also use words such as represent, seem, and reality to identify an object’s aesthetic value. An object’s appearance is what inspires the observer to appreciate it. It thus becomes the basis of beauty and the aim of aesthetic evaluation. The knowledge of how to appreciate beauty is therefore an imperative for aesthetic education.
However, while the knowledge of beauty may provide a basis for some forms of aesthetic evaluation, there is no universal standard of beauty. Beauty is a highly subjective matter and can only be objectively measured through the process of analysis and comparison of different persons. Beauty is therefore dependent upon the innermost subjective aspects of persons and their relation to each other and to the society in which they live. Therefore, beauty is subjective and it is largely up to the individual to determine the exact nature of his own personal feelings and judgements of beauty.
Appreciation of beauty therefore is a subjective matter and depends entirely on the individual. Everyone has a different idea of beauty according to their cultural and historical context. There are many different ways in which we judge beauty. For instance, one way of judging beauty is through the visual sense, whereby an object is judged to be beautiful if it appeals to our eyes. This form of beauty has become highly specialized and is usually known as the aesthetic judgment.
Aesthetic judgments are based on two basic principles – aesthetic value and personal meaning. The aesthetic value of a work of art is determined by its ‘naturalness’, that is, whether or not it pleases our natural senses. On the other hand, the human form and its bodily features, its facial features, are judged aesthetically depending on the satisfaction which we derive from them as humans. These two forms of aesthetic judgment therefore give rise to two radically different concepts of beauty which are personal meaning and aesthetic value.