Beauty is often defined as a subjective quality of things that makes these things pleasing to perceive. These things include sunsets, landscapes, humans and creative works of art. Beauty, along with beauty, is the leading topic of aesthetics, one of the most important branches of psychology. According to recent studies, the most popular element in defining beauty is symmetry. Symmetry is usually associated with artistic merit, where objects are symmetrical in appearance so as to be visually appealing.
In the twentieth century, however, the aesthetic beauty has been heavily influenced by the social factors of beauty. Beauty is subjective according to some and objective according to others. Some critics compare beauty to language, with beauty a form of language that can be perceived and appreciated only by the human visual system. According to these definitions, beauty is a human concept and thus all humans can share the experience of beauty.
The word beauty, in the academic study, is usually associated with the Greek term, ‘aktor’; which literally means ‘having great beauty’. However, the idea of beauty is a very general one and some philosophers, such as Leo Tolstoy, have developed their own individual ideas of beauty. According to him, the beauty is inherent and independent of personal ability, status and achievements. He argues that the idea of beauty is derived from the recognition of truth, which he defines as ‘a state of complete satisfaction of need’. Beauty, then, can be taken to be the desire of ultimate gratification in the sense of the universal and unconditional possession of truth. According to Tolstoy, the concept of beauty, when coupled with practical reason, can give a person a subjective satisfaction that is ‘utterly gratifying’.
Beauty consciousness is also an important concept of aesthetic psychology, with its aim being to define and explain how we experience beauty and its components. A variety of aesthetic ideals have been identified, across cultures and historical periods, by different researchers, including Weber, Sartre, de Chardin and Machado. Beauty ideals can be objective (i.e. ‘the ideal form of beauty’) or subjective (i.e. ‘aesthetic feelings that one experiences’).
Beauty consciousness is not, however, confined to the study of beauty. Beauty in art, literature, music and other forms of expression has also been the subject of intense research by ethologist Charles Darwin, psychologist Edward Said and others. The main difference between beauty consciousness is that one is more objective than the other, while the former depends more on the ability to recognize a standard of beauty in the self rather than on the ability to find aesthetic satisfaction within a social or cultural context. Beauty consciousness is more subjective, and thus beauty ideals vary across cultures and times.
In photography, for example, the idea of beauty can mean different things to different people. To some, an object’s beauty can be judged solely in terms of visual aspects, while to others the beauty of an object is judged by its psychological attributes, i.e. its appeal to the senses. Some photographers work on the assumption that beauty is ‘socially neutral’, i.e. something that can be objectively measured. However, this ‘idealism’ about beauty is likely to vary widely among different aestheticians and photographic artists, with ‘illusory beauty’ an underlying tendency towards cultural difference.