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cockswain's avatar

What is beauty?

Asked by cockswain (15271points) September 10th, 2010

How do we decide something looks beautiful? Like a face, a mountain range, a sunset, an animal, a great ass, a painting, or a body of water? A sunset is just a bunch of colors blending together, yet it looks beautiful. I might see a pair of legs and think it is just gorgeous. Some paintings just blow my mind. What is it about these things that appeals to us so much? Why are some faces just amazing while others do nothing for us? What’s at the heart of the matter?

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9 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

I don’t know. I think some of what we consider beautiful is hard wired but much of what we consider beautiful is purely cultural. Good question, though.

iammia's avatar

I think anything we come into contact with/taste/touch that we get some pleasure out of experiencing it, then i would class that as beauty. Can be anything…people, nature, art.

cockswain's avatar

Why do beautiful things give us pleasure?

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Besides the beauty of nature and human love, this lady:

Jabe73's avatar

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The term “beauty” is narrowed down to each individual preference.

wundayatta's avatar

Both genes and culture appear to have strong effects on our notion of beauty. Symmetry is an important factor that seems to be fairly universal. Mirror symmetry of the face is most important. There may also be a ratio of the length of the nose to the size of the face that is important.

In the West, the “Barbie” figure is a sign of beauty. Beauty is a proxy for health, apparently. Women with the hourglass figure have a lower incidence of infertility and diabetes. However, this preference is not universal, so psychologists think that culture has played a significant role in our preferences, too.

To add to the unfairness, beautiful people are “more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular.” They also have more success in their careers, and they get more dating experience than others in their age cohort. Attractive people are indeed more successful, so that provides a strong reason for people to be attracted to them.

The preference for symmetry seems to extend to our preferences in our dwellings. Many of our buildings are balanced, right and left. Of course, there are other buildings that sprawl all over the place that are considered beautiful, too. And nature is pretty wild, even when it is placed in a Japanese garden. People love nature.

I think there is a preference for things that lead the eye on interesting journeys. The slope of a hill; the slope of a face; the grain growing in the prairie—the sense of expansiveness, of growth, of life, food, and endlessness—in my opinion, are beautiful to people in general.

Beauty of things humans have built I think is often largely culturally influenced. We find neat neighborhoods to be much preferable to the town dump. We like skyscrapers better than refineries. A park is nicer than a scrap metal operation. Airplanes and boats exhibit a high level of symmetry and they are often considered beautiful.

Proportions seem to matter. We seem to be attracted to things with a fixed set of relative proportions. Music is like this. Although different tonal relationships and different qualities of sound are preferred in different places.

We experience these things intuitively. We don’t stop to measure the ratios or see how symmetrical something or someone is. We think we are making purely aesthetic judgments when we decide what we like, but of course we are influenced by culture and, as it seems, our genes.

I think there’s a feeling we get when we experience something we find personally beautiful. It calms us. It causes us to pause and to look, and maybe even to covet. We find ourselves drawn towards it—to look longer, to appreciate, and perhaps to acquire. I think that the pauses that beauty makes us take are refreshing physically, emotionally and spiritually. We just want to spend time in the presence of beauty, and if we acquire it, we know we can spend much more time with it.

It is this feeling that I think the poets are trying to describe, and the dancers and painters are trying to recapture when they are going for beauty. Poetry even provides symmetry. It uses rhyme and meter to create symmetry. Of course, artists of whatever kind are not always going for beauty. They have other things to say, as well.

I think that some arts, like dance and music and art and architecture have an easier time of giving us the beautiful experience than writing does. We experience beauty in a non-verbal way, for the most part. It is visceral. It moves something indescribable inside us. It’s a feeling that, like a color, can not be described.

That doesn’t stop those who wield the keyboard. Writers are constantly trying to capture that ineffable experience in words. Rarely do they succeed.

For us, the amateurs at words, it is even more difficult. We know it when we see it. But can we tell each other what it is? Not bloody likely.

cockswain's avatar

Hey that’s a really great answer, I appreciate you putting so much thought into it. I’m at work, but I hope to discuss some of your points when I have time later.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
darrenpete's avatar

Is beauty just a cultural thing, based on whatever the common consensus is at any particular time? Or is there a ‘true beauty’, that we find in all cultures and times? Actually it’s a little of both. Do you want to know which aspects of ‘beauty’ are arbitrary, and which seem to be biological? Or whether stick thin models are truly beautiful, or just an artificial fad? An interesting peculiarity about this store is that its layout makes it impossible to get to the men’s section without walking through the women’s underwear section. Having no other option, I made my way through this mysterious section of the store.

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