There are many things that can be considered beautiful. For example, you might consider a painting a thing of great beauty. A particular song, a pair of shoes, a deer in the woods, an elegant theorem — all might be considered beautiful.
But what exactly does that mean?
Studies have been done where people rate the attractiveness of faces shown to them. As it turns out, people tend to prefer a face that is more symmetrical. Why? The presumption is that symmetry denotes health, which means a good candidate for successful mating. What we find beautiful is encoded in our genes as an evolutionary strategy.
Or is it? It seems that notions of beauty change over time. In the middle ages, women as depicted in paintings tended to be larger than the wafer-thin models that stride the catwalks.
Are we simply programmed by our society as to what constitutes beauty? The people we see in magazines and on television… are they in our media because they are beautiful, or do we consider them to be beautiful because they are in our media?
Similarly, we can consider the art world. Imagine a particular painting is prominently displayed in a museum, or is sold for a large sum of money, or is presented in an art history class. Might we not start to assume it has great beauty?
Some people describe ideas as being beautiful. But what does beauty mean in that case? Does it simply mean that it is useful? Some might describe a theory that explains a complicated idea in a few short words or equations as elegant. Is “beauty” in this case just a synonym for “simple”? And do we mean the same thing when talking about art, or ideas, or faces?
What is beauty?