From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"In the 20th century, beauty (simple beauty, as in a Venus, Adonis, or Arcadia), had to go somewhere when it was banned from the arts. The human need for beauty wants to be gratified, thus beauty needed a new place to reside. It also needed new patrons.
Beauty found its new home in consumer culture and cinema, and its new patrons in Hollywood and the marketing, product design and advertising divisions of fast-moving consumer goods, consumer electronics, and the car industry.
--Sholem Stein, 2006
"Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all " --André Breton
"What is beautiful is always bizarre" -- Charles Baudelaire
Beauty is commonly defined as a characteristic present in a person, place, object or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning or satisfaction to the mind or to the eyes, arising from sensory manifestations such as a shape, color, personality, sound, design or rhythm. Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, sociology, social psychology and culture. Beauty, as a cultural creation, is also extremely commercialized.
The subjective experience of "beauty" often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a common phrase attributed to this concept.
In its most profound sense, beauty may engender a salient experience of positive reflection about the meaning of one's own existence. An "object of beauty" is anything that reveals or resonates with personal meaning. Hence religious and moral teachings often focus on the divinity and virtue of beauty, and to assert natural beauty as an aspect of a spirituality and truth.
The classical Greek noun for "beauty" was κάλλος, kallos, and the adjective for "beautiful" was καλός, kalos.
Historical view of beauty
There is evidence that a preference for beautiful faces emerges early in child development, and that the standards of attractiveness are similar across different genders and cultures. A study published in 2008 suggests that symmetry is also important because it suggests the absence of genetic or acquired defects.
Although style and fashion vary widely, cross-cultural research has found a variety of commonalities in people's perception of beauty. The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion.
Plato considered beauty to be the Idea (Form) above all other Ideas. Aristotle saw a relationship between the beautiful (to kalon) and virtue, arguing that "Virtue aims at the beautiful."
Classical philosophy and sculptures of men and women produced according to the Greek philosophers' tenets of ideal human beauty were rediscovered in Renaissance Europe, leading to a re-adoption of what became known as a "classical ideal". In terms of female human beauty, a woman whose appearance conforms to these tenets is still called a "classical beauty" or said to possess a "classical beauty", whilst the foundations laid by Greek and Roman artists have also supplied the standard for male beauty in western civilization. During the Gothic era, the classical aesthetical canon of beauty was rejected as sinful. Later, the Renaissance and Humanism rejected this view, and considered beauty as a product of rational order and harmony of proportions. Renaissance artists and architect (such as Giorgio Vasari in his "lives of artists") criticised the Gothic period as irrational and barbarian. This point of view over Gothic art lasted until Romanticism, in the 19th century.
The Age of Reason saw a rise in an interest in beauty as a philosophical subject. For example, Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson argued that beauty is "unity in variety and variety in unity". The Romantic poets, too, became highly concerned with the nature of beauty, with John Keats arguing in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" that
- Beauty is truth, truth beauty ,—that is all.
- Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
In the Romantic period, Edmund Burke postulated a difference between beauty in its classical meaning and the sublime. The concept of the sublime, as explicated by Burke and Kant, suggested viewing Gothic art and architecture, though not in accordance with the classical standard of beauty, as sublime.
The 20th century saw an increasing rejection of beauty by artists and philosophers alike, culminating in postmodernism's anti-aesthetics. This is despite beauty being a central concern of one of postmodernism's main influences, Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that the Will to Power was the Will to Beauty.
In the aftermath of postmodernism's rejection of beauty, thinkers have returned to beauty as an important value. American analytic philosopher Guy Sircello proposed his A New Theory of Beauty as an effort to reaffirm the status of beauty as an important philosophical concept.
The characterization of a person as “beautiful”, whether on an individual basis or by community consensus, is often based on some combination of Inner Beauty, which includes psychological factors such as personality, intelligence, grace, politeness, charisma, integrity, congruence and elegance, and Outer Beauty, (i.e. physical attractiveness) which includes physical factors, such as health, youthfulness, facial symmetry, averageness, and complexion.
Standards of beauty are always evolving, based on what a culture considers valuable. Historical paintings show a wide range of different standards for beauty. However, humans who are relatively young, with smooth skin, well-proportioned bodies, and regular features, have traditionally been considered to be the most beautiful throughout history.
A strong indicator of physical beauty is "averageness", or "koinophilia". When images of human faces are averaged together to form a composite image, they become progressively closer to the "ideal" image and are perceived as more attractive. This was first noticed in 1883, when Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, overlaid photographic composite images of the faces of vegetarians and criminals to see if there was a typical facial appearance for each. When doing this, he noticed that the composite images were more attractive compared to any of the individual images.
Researchers have replicated the result under more controlled conditions and found that the computer generated, mathematical average of a series of faces is rated more favorably than individual faces. Evolutionarily it makes logical sense that sexual creatures should be attracted to mates who possess predominantly common or average features.
A feature of beautiful women that has been explored by researchers is a waist-to-hip ratio of approximately 0.70. Physiologists have shown that women with hourglass figures are more fertile than other women due to higher levels of certain female hormones, a fact that may subconsciously condition males choosing mates.
People are influenced by the images they see in the media to determine what is or is not beautiful. Feminists and doctors have suggested that the very thin models featured in magazines promote eating disorders, and internalized racism.
The black is beautiful cultural movement sought to dispel this notion. Mixed race children are often perceived to be more attractive than their parents because their genetic diversity protects them from the inherited errors of their individual parents.
The concept of beauty in men is known as 'bishōnen' in Japan. Bishōnen refers to males with distinctly feminine features, physical characteristics establishing the standard of beauty in Japan and typically exhibited in their pop culture idols.
Effects on society
Beauty presents a standard of comparison, and it can cause resentment and dissatisfaction when not achieved. People who do not fit the "beauty ideal" may be ostracized within their communities. The television sitcom Ugly Betty portrays the life of a girl faced with hardships due to society's unwelcoming attitudes toward those they deem unattractive. However, a person may also be targeted for harassment because of their beauty. In Malèna, a strikingly beautiful Italian woman is forced into poverty by the women of the community who refuse to give her work for fear that she may "woo" their husbands. The noted documentary Beauty in the Eyes of the Beheld explores both the societal blessings and curses of female beauty through interviews of women considered beautiful.
Researchers have found that good looking students get higher grades from their teachers than students with an ordinary appearance. Furthermore, attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors. Studies have even shown that handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts. Studies among teens and young adults, such as those of psychiatrist and self-help author, Eva Ritvo, show that skin conditions have a profound effect on social behavior and opportunity.
How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty. One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people, who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking. Discrimination against others based on their appearance is known as lookism.
St. Augustine said of beauty "Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked."
Ugliness is a property of a person or thing that is unpleasant to look upon and results in a highly unfavorable evaluation. To be ugly is to be aesthetically unattractive, repulsive, or offensive. Like its opposite, beauty, ugliness involves a subjective judgment and is at least partly in the "eye of the beholder." Thus, the perception of ugliness can be mistaken or short-sighted, as in the story of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen.
Although ugliness is normally viewed as a visible characteristic, it can also be an internal attribute. For example, an individual could be outwardly attractive but inwardly thoughtless and cruel. It is also possible to be in an "ugly mood," which is a temporary, internal state of unpleasantness.
For some people, ugliness is a central aspect of their persona. Jean-Paul Sartre had a lazy eye and a bloated, asymmetrical face, and he attributed many of his philosophical ideas to his life-long struggle to come to terms with his self-described ugliness. Socrates also used his ugliness as a philosophical touch point, concluding that philosophy can save us from our outward ugliness. Famous in his own time for his perceived ugliness, Abraham Lincoln was described by a contemporary: "to say that he is ugly is nothing; to add that his figure is grotesque, is to convey no adequate impression." However, his looks proved to be an asset in his personal and political relationships, as his law partner William Herndon wrote, "He was not a pretty man by any means, nor was he an ugly one; he was a homely man, careless of his looks, plain-looking and plain-acting. He had no pomp, display, or dignity, so-called. He appeared simple in his carriage and bearing. He was a sad-looking man; his melancholy dripped from him as he walked. His apparent gloom impressed his friends, and created sympathy for him - one means of his great success."
- Beauty and the beast
- Beauty contest
- Cult of beauty
- Erotic capital
- Glamour (presentation)
- Human beauty
- Human physical appearance
- Mathematical beauty
- Nature (philosophy)
- Sexual attraction
- Universal beauty