Toward a Reappraisal of Beauty.

An exploration of the concept of Beauty can be challenging. Anyone who has gone to an art school will be familiar with the attitude there that Beauty is associated with being intellectually shallow, passé—or even worse—reveals a dependence on craftsmanship at the expense of concept. Instructors and fellow students often roll their eyes when a discussion of the concept of Beauty is proposed.


I feel the main source for this reaction comes from a history in art where Beauty is often associated with a hierarchy of critical judgement that rejected innovation and spontaneity because it was not fashionable – the proverbial “rejection from the Salon” of misunderstood geniuses. This was the world of connoisseurs and aristocratic patrons who wanted art to validate and uphold the privileges of class, wealth and power – as expressed in the shifting and exclusionary dictates of fashion. Enforcement of a contrived standard of Beauty characterized by varnishes, brushwork and classical composition could then be used as a barrier to keep out subversive ideas and the distinctions of class they may seek to overturn.


While that archaic attitude may persist with some people today, it is not so prevalent that artists must continue to reject Beauty as being on the wrong side of class warfare. Or swing to a reactionary extreme where Beauty is “unfashionable” in a contemporary art world aristocracy that fetishizes cynicism. Beauty deserves a reappraisal. In our frantic, monetized, marketed, and desensitized world; a deeper, more insightful concept of Beauty would be a catalyst for healing and transformative experiences.


But first, it may be a good idea to explore what the word “beauty” can mean. This can help keep us from sliding into familiar stereotypes that narrow and distort our perceptions. Examining unfamiliar perspectives on Beauty expands our own sense of possibilities. The reward for this exercise is that we develop the capacity to perceive the deeper, more meaningful phenomena of Beauty in things and experiences we would otherwise be blind to.


To begin exploring the meaning of "beauty", I would recommend reading “History of Beauty” by Umberto Eco. It is an encyclopedic collection of definitions of Beauty, but not dry or pedantic. It is lively and enlightening with examples that help clarify the many perspectives presented. The entry on “The Ecstasy Within Things” was validating for my own beliefs and an inspiration for further exploration. You can find it here: