George Santayana describes beauty as “the object of our pleasure”. We judge beauty by responding to the object that brings us pleasure. This is what makes beauty so appealing and compelling. But the experience is not primarily internal: it also connects us to communities of appreciation. But what exactly is beauty? We don’t fully understand this question until we have considered the social and political context of its creation. Ultimately, beauty is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon.
While there are many theories of beauty, they all have similar traits: they are all subjective and always contested. In fact, the notion of beauty is so vague and constantly changing that no one can truly define it. While we can disagree about what is beautiful, we can learn from others’ views. For example, a person may find a piece of music beautiful, while another person may find it offensive. In short, beauty is relative. If it is not pleasing to you, it is not beauty.
While there is no universally accepted definition of beauty, there is a common thread among many objects. Think of the beauty in a Michelangelo “David” or a Van Gogh self-portrait. These objects, as well as the Grand Canyon, have all been considered beautiful by a person. That is the beauty of beauty. If we are to judge something as beautiful, we should ask ourselves if it is beautiful or not.