May 27, 2014

Poll: Is Beauty Objective?

Rondall Reynoso

Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouchedThere is massive disagreement about the ontology of beauty. For many today, beauty is merely in the eye of the beholder. For others, beauty is an objective reality. I’ve thought a lot about this over the last year and honestly I’m still not 100% persuaded either way. I’ve interacted with philosophers thoughts on this subject. But, I am currently really interested in what the rest of you have to say: The artist, the banker, the farmer, the housewife, the convict, the preacher… But maybe more importantly, I am interested in why you feel beauty is objective or subjective. So please, answer the poll question and leave your thoughts below.

 

Is beauty objective?

 

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Rondall Reynoso


Rondall is an artist, scholar, and speaker. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He holds an MFA in Painting and an MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and is completing a Ph.D. in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

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  • I voted “NO”. I’m not going to get into too much detail here, but I can tell you, as an ugly person, and as a person that lusts, beauty is not at all objective. There is a double standard.

  • I voted “yes.” I believe forms of beauty are objective, and within these broad parameters, there are many subjective factors. For instance, facial symmetry is beautiful, but various facial characteristics are in the eye of the beholder. However, even if facial symmetry is traumatically distorted, we can find even wounds to be subjectively beautiful if they were received from saving someone. Waterfalls, etc, were also in mind.

  • I voted no. Beauty should be objective without a doubt, but given how differently every aspect of beauty can be viewed it becomes subjective to individual opinion.

  • Wrong question. Or more importantly, non-issue. Who gains power if it is? Who gains power if it isn’t? This is like asking if God is objective. What does it ultimately matter? Who am I to define God? Who am I to define Beauty? Just as God defines himself, so does Beauty.

    Joe

  • Hi Rondall, I absolutely believe beauty is objective, both framed by our values, morals and learning and yet at the same time carved invisibly into the fabric of the Universe behind the scenes.

    Humanity having drifted far far away from the Source of Beauty is deceived and being self deceived is at the heart of human blindness, aggravated by an inflated impostor ego, aggrandized by a woeful ignorance of Truth, which is God.

    I think beauty has everything to do with good and evil, and ultimately has everything to do with the fall of man. Imagine if the tree in the garden was the tree of the knowledge of beauty and ugliness.

    If beauty is not objective then it is not beauty at all, it is just mere opinion and anything and everything then is both beautiful and ugly at the same time.

  • I think Beauty is eternal and yes, objective, but as with Truth and Goodness, we “see through the glass darkly,” and therefore, our perception of it will always be subjective. To believe in God is, I *think* to believe in the eternal and objective nature of Beauty/Goodness/Truth.

  • I voted “yes,” but my full answer is “beauty is both objective and subjective! It always has an objective aspect, but also always requires a beholder and the uniqueness of the beholder”

  • Hey Rondall. Way to open up a can of worms! Since you asked me to respond, here goes…

    I am a proponent of aesthetic objectivism, in that beauty is an intrinsic quality of an object independent of the person experiencing the object. I further believe that true Beauty is defined according to God’s original intention of creation (it was “good”). And as such, all true Beauty points to God, because it hints at His fingerprint upon the universe. In this way, Beauty and Truth are related, in that they both originate from God’s purpose in action.

    However, I also believe that we are an experiential and highly opinionated species. And since beauty is a quality that provides humans with a perceptual experience, our experience of beauty is subjective, though the quality of beauty is not. And this makes sense because our perception of beauty, and how we respond to it, is a subset of our free will.

    I blogged on this a few years ago: http://manuelluz.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/o-beauty-ancient/

  • More importantly, why do you feel the need to classify, even objectify, Beauty as either objective or subjective?

    Joe

  • Your question actually asks of the value of words to express experience. I would argue that it is the “objective” that is beautiful, the thing-in-itself that allows for the freedom of a “subjective” response. Therein lies, in my opinion, a purely democratic process, and therefore a freedom that objective beauty personifies.
    There is also a wonderful, though quite different approach to defining beauty, in a book entitled: The Retrieval of the Beautiful: Thinknig Through Merleau-Ponty’s Aesthetics, by Galen A. Johnson, an honors professor of philosophy at the University of Rhode Island. Good luck with your “curiosity.” :-)

  • Matt Skinner says:

    Wow! Great question. I’m leaning towards saying it is NOT objective in most situations. Man looks at the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). I would say, for example, that my wife is not only physically beautiful but she also has character qualities that I think are beautiful (patient, loving, kind, etc). However, those are still only my opinions and someone else may disagree (in which case I’d have to clobber them).

  • I believe there are God shaped vacuums…that get filled with that pleasing to Him and beneficial like food for our souls and spirit…or with the perverse…which simply is that that indulges our fleshly desires. And one such space longs for the aesthetic…builds appreciation and thus nurtures a thankful heart.

    We thus get a glimpse of what God declared “good” in Creation with that we perceive as beautiful. The “what” and the “degree” to what defines beauty for us is personal and I would say subjective…but that we will find beauty…the “finding” is objective.

  • Bobbette Rose says:

    I believe we are made with an innate understanding of beauty…it’s part of our being created in the image of God…God is beauty…anything that brings me into a connection with that “God” beauty whether I understand it as coming from God or not, will be seen by me as beautiful. That’s why something can be horrific and externally revolting but have the power to make me weep for the beauty of it…because it’s connecting me with the something true about God and the way I have been created.
    I just spent a year at the bedside of my dying father as he slowly withered away minute by minute, it was sad, it was hard, there were alot of ugly moments and yet it was profoundly beautiful.
    However my understanding and ability to receive something as beautiful is subjective. Every moment and object has the potential of being understood as beautiful based on my ability to receive it as beauty. And this is what makes beauty mysterious and ungraspable and why I think we have grown to disdain it. We grown ”bent” and believe more in “ugliness” (or that which rejects the created truth of God) as being our guide to truth rather than beauty.

  • Bill Goldman says:

    Once, a long time ago, I was doing a course with the Open University on Aesthetics (in fact, it was called that), and one of the questions was something like “What is beauty?” I remember researching it by reading an essay by Kant, and my impression was that he concluded that beauty both is and is not objective, i.e. it is in the eye of the beholder but it is also objectively present.

    The simplest argument that shows this to be true, I think, is that if it were not true, how would, say, two art critics be able to debate on the relative merits – that is to say, beauties – of two different pictures? If the beauty’s objective presence can be debated, then it cannot be merely in the eye of the beholder – you can’t debate whether strawberries or bananas taste better, right?

    But the whole of cultural criticism is based, I would say, whether consciously or not, on the premise that there IS something to discuss, i.e. that beauty is not only, but only partly, in the eye of the beholder.

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