Beauty is often defined as the aesthetic quality of certain objects, which makes these objects pleasant to see. These objects can be of natural landscapes, sunsets, beautiful humans and beautiful works of art. Beauty, along with beauty, is perhaps the most important theme of aesthetics, among the various branches of philosophy. In fact, many of the greatest painters, musicians, writers, etc have all had their personal visions of beauty. The term beauty was first used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
In the modern era, beauty has been associated with the search for happiness and emotional well being. Modernists on the other hand define beauty as the subjective view of beauty in all its forms. They include such notions as beauty in architecture, literature and film. In recent years, the search for the real or ideal beauty has become more fashionable than ever before. One such definition is provided by the American philosopher Kurt Goldstein who wrote, ‘The concept of beauty has always depended on a human need to place himself in the category of worth; thus, beauty is defined by the ability of a person to attach himself to the category of superiority.’ Since the mid-twentieth century, artists have increasingly questioned the necessity of form following function, with many modernists going so far as to regard any demand for aesthetic value as an obstacle to creating meaningful art.
Modernists on the other hand argue that beauty is determined by the individual’s ‘inherent tendencies’, and that he can pursue his chosen aesthetic objective irrespective of what the object of his choice might be. A famous example of this approach can be seen in the work of the so-called ‘Famous Five’ – Picasso, Braque, Gautier, Safar diesel. These five artists painted pictures which questioned the standard forms of beauty – for each picture, the artist pointed out, could be considered a unique ‘man’ standing on the canvas. This idea of unique ‘man’ and therefore, unique ‘beauty’ is at the core of the work of the modernist artists.
The basis of this approach to beauty is the individual’s sense of personal worth, or his sense of being a ‘real man’. Modernists argue that this concept of beauty has no biological implication, since beauty can exist in reality irrespective of one’s sex, race or physical appearance. Furthermore, they claim that beauty can be defined in terms of a set of universally accepted, abstract principles. According to the philosophy of the Modernists, the universal sign of beauty is that which satisfies the four requirements put forward by the philosopher of science, i.e., the principle of proportion, the principle of contrast and the principle of balance.
A further essential element of Modernism is the notion of ‘meaningful’ beauty. It is often claimed that the aim of painting is to beautify the entire visual system, and thus make it perform the functions traditionally assigned to it by the natural world. According to the Modernists, art must serve to communicate a certain ‘purpose’. For example, certain colors and forms are suited to certain objects and their placement in the visual field depends on their ‘meaning’. Thus, a painting may beautify the ‘man’ and its environment, but if it is not meant to tell us anything specific, then its beauty is purely subjective.
However, the philosophy of beauty is not without controversy. Critics of Modernism argue that beauty is subjective and thus lacks any objective meaning. Some others argue that beauty has a definite definition, and that the definition may vary from one person to another. It is also argued that, since beauty varies according to culture and historical period, it becomes meaningless to speak of beauty in general.