An Aesthetic Problem: The Philosophy Post #2

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For the second philosophy post of the series, I thought it would be quite appropriate to look at Aesthetics which is essentially the philosophy of art and beauty. Since the rest of my blog content is largely about fashion and literature with a few beauty and lifestyle posts thrown in here and there - it seemed quite fitting to do a brief introduction into what it is that makes something art, or something beautiful.

In the field of Aesthetics there have been a whole host of Philosophers (Kant, Heidegger and Hegel to name a few, if you want to do a bit of research!), who have tried to give their definition of beauty. However many of them recognise that there seems to be an intrinsic conflict with the way we think about things that are beautiful. 

It is a bit of a cliched saying, but it seems that we all agree that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", meaning we each have different perceptions on whether things are or aren't beautiful or artistic. Kant and Hume expressed this line of thought claiming that 'beauty' is essentially not an objective quality in a certain thing but instead is just an opinion or feeling expressed by an individual. 

BUT it doesn't seem to right to say that beauty is purely subjective, because you only need to look at the cover of Vogue, or the work in The Tate to see that there does seem to be some kind of objective standards to what we can call beautiful or call art. Even silly trivial things like the 'Ugly Booth' iphone app seems to show that their are some kind of universal standards we follow. Although beauty is certainly somewhat subjective, there seems to be too much agreement to say that there aren't particular attributes that define beauty. (How can David Beckham not be objectively beautiful?!)

So how do we align the two? How can we say that beauty is subjective and it is entirely plausible that a painting or a picture that one person finds beautiful might be repulsive to another and still explain the universal standards of beauty that seem to dominate our society?

This is the problem of Aesthetics, voilà.

There have been a number of attempts to try and give an account of beauty that allows it to be both subjective and objective and Kant and Hume are certainly a good place to start (although both accounts are definitely too complex for one blog post!). So if you are interested in having a look at some of the more academic solutions than check out the page on SEP (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy) or for a more light hearted approach check out Philosophy Bro (best website ever!).

In the mean time, what do you guys think about the problem? Has this made you think about how you think about art and use the term beauty? 

Charlotte x
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  1. This is so interesting! I love how you've made this so concise and accessible to read. I really want to look into this further, and what an interesting point about universal standards of beauty seeping into 'mundane' trivial things such as an app!

    I've always felt that beauty is whatever you choose it to be, and it most certainly varies from person to person but even those are governed by wider contexts that are so entrenched we don't question them (or if we do they are deviant and considered 'avant garde' or what have you. So who gets to decide what is beautiful or not!?

    Great post!

    Nell at And Nell Writes

  2. Charlotte Lucy Philpotts27 November 2013 at 10:42

    I'm so glad you found it interesting!
    It is really difficult because I too would like to think that beauty can be completely subjective and what you choose it to be, but then I can't deny that I often find many conventional 'beautiful' things beautiful, and I'm not sure whether that is simply because society has conditioned me too or whether there are universal rules that influence what is beautiful.
    It is a really great topic to look into further! xxx