Beauty is defined as the beauty of things that makes these things enjoyable to see. Such things as nature, sunsets, human faces and works of art are considered beauty. Beauty, along with aesthetic taste and knowledge, is perhaps the most significant theme of aesthetics, another of the several major branches of contemporary social science. In fact, the term beauty is often used in conjunction with the term art which more specifically refers to visual culture.
Beauty as an object is most clearly discernible in twentieth century artwork. Paintings, sculpture and other forms of fine art typically exhibit a form of beauty which is determined by the human eye. Subjective beauty is what we normally refer to when we speak of beauty. However, beauty can also be a subjective conception which emerges from the history of human consciousness. Beauty as an objective quality also existed in the early centuries of the earth and has survived to this day in various cultural forms.
Aesthetic beauty has been a central concern for philosophers since the earliest ages of recorded history. According to Plato, beauty was the product of beauty standards established by the soul of a person. In the Analesitheistic Philosophy, Socrates regarded all beauty as the product of beauty standards based on the soul of the person. According to Jean Piaget’s “Theory of Cognitive Style”, beauty is judged according to how it matches with the expectations of one’s culture. Beauty therefore is not independent of culture and affects all cultures in one way or another.
The most important work in the history of beauty is Psellus’ Theoria. This treatise introduced many of the terms and conventions related to beauty into Western aesthetics. Psellus claimed that beauty existed in the mind and could be judged from the outward appearance of things. In his Theoria, Psellus argued that mental beauty was necessarily interpersonal beauty because beauty could be judged only by the acquaintance with the person’s nature and personality.
After the advent of classical aesthetics, European society experienced a new phase in its appreciation of beauty. Renaissance Period aesthetics gave way to a French aesthetic beauty which emphasized the importance of nature and natural beauty in art. According to the influential French painter painters like Boucher, Vermeer, Chardin and Richelieu, nature was the key to the creation of beauty. As they maintained, beauty in art came from the effects of the objects on the human body.
The significance of this concept of beauty changed the outlook of Western society. As a result, literature on beauty began to develop in the late medieval and Renaissance periods. Several renaissance paintings and other works on architecture and natural imagery helped to define the new aesthetic concepts. From this period on, art historians have documented the evolution of beauty throughout the centuries. Art historians have described the gradual development of beauty concepts through different modes. According to them, there has been a parallel evolution of aesthetic beauty throughout the history of Western society.
During the Middle Ages, the greatest influence on the development of beauty was the religious preaching. The Catholic Church stressed the sanctity of life and beauty and artists were pressured to express this through their work. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were highly criticized by the Medieval Church and their statues and paintings were frequently rejected by the people.
As a result, literature on beauty flourished during the renaissance and medieval periods. This literature focused on the beauties of nature and the depiction of nature in art. Authors including Luca Pacioli and Leonardo da Vinci made an important contribution to the genre of literary aesthetics. Renaissance aesthetics is still one of the most important areas of study today. One can study the development of beauty in art through the works of such authors as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello and Rembrandt. Moreover, beauty is an essential part of everyday life as one can rarely walk into a shop without seeing beautiful objects.