Beauty and the Beholder

By Harold Raley

Beauty has mystified philosophers and inspired poets and artists since the beginning of history. Everybody recognizes beauty when they see it, but there is no consensus about what it is. Some have argued that beauty cannot be separated from the person or object where it appears.

Beauty and the Beholder by Harold Raley: For others, beauty is something we learn from the culture. What one society finds beautiful, another will call ugly. Plato wrote that “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” For his part, poet John Keats sang that “Beauty is the truth, truth beauty,” but according to an old English proverb, “Beauty is but skin-deep.”
Philosophers and psychologists ponder whether we have an innate aesthetic sense, which cultural influences can modify but not create. In the nineteenth century, European and American art connoisseurs thought African art was ugly, but a few generations later they pronounced it beautiful and stocked it in their museums. The same was true of “Modern Art.” Once reviled as artistic renegades, the great modern artists are now revered as creative icons.
These wide swings in concepts of beauty seem to leave at least two aesthetic facts intact: (1) all humans have a strong sense, or intuition, of what is beautiful and ugly, but (2) the canons or norms by which beauty is judged vary widely from culture to culture.
But how do we come by this sense of beauty in the first place? Some anthropologists have speculated that beauty had a survival value for primitive humanity. Fruit that was fresh and sound, in a word “beautiful,” was preferable to rotting, “ugly” fruit. In this “beautiful” sense so were prime game animals killed in the hunt. “Beautiful” women would be those able to survive the rigors of nomadic camp life and give birth to healthy children. Likewise, the strongest hunters were “handsome,” meaning they could protect and feed the tribe. Even the land was “beautiful” if it offered plentiful food and water. As human society grew in complexity, these concepts of beauty lost their purely practical applications and spread to other things, including shapes, sounds, ideas, and artistic creations.
The problem with this utilitarian theory is that we find hardly a hint of it in the earliest records. On the other hand, the fact that throughout most of history the predominant motifs of art and poetry were persons suggests that the first concept of beauty was associated with the human form. As Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things.” But the fact that beauty has traditionally been associated with woman, only secondarily with a man, suggests that our original idea of beauty came from the female form and especially the mother’s face. For she was our first love, our primary model of beauty. Long before we could say them, we enjoyed in

Writers Biline:

Harold Raley

Writer Name : Harold Raley

Writer Bio : Harold Raley, PhD, is a professor, writer, linguist, and philosopher