Greece & You
Joe Greenwald, Champlain Valley
Union High School, VT
Since the beginning of
human kind, we have struggled, among other things, with the definition
of beauty. Different eras and different philosophers had their
own ideas, yet no one was able to agree upon one single idea.
The only thing that seemed consistent without being too cliche,
was that "beauty was in the eye of the beholder." Today
considered, everyone still has their own meaning. A mother may
find her child with mud streaked across its face beautiful, where
you see a mess. A scientist may find a certain mold beautiful,
where you would look at it in disgust. Despite the differences
in people's opinions it is important to explore their ideas on
order to get a firm background on what beauty could be and what
it is in your mind. Is it all appearance? Is it perfection? Is
it what you are told?
In the earliest times,
it was Socrates that first explored the definition of beauty,
he felt that aesthetics was a form of purity. Things that are
pure withing themselves evokes pleasure, thus beauty. Socrates'
idea can be considered as a form of beauty, yet it far from the
whole spectrum, it is not restricted to such a narrow theme.
Plato was another mind in great interest in trying to pin point
the role of beauty in society. Plato believed, among other things
that relative beauty only exists when you compare objects to
each other. If some aspect of an object is beautiful, the whole
object is beautiful. After further consideration, Plato came
up the most logical of all the philosophies, that beauty cannot
be defined. Some things have the "ideal beauty" and
no one can consider it not beautiful. It is also in agreement
of Plato throughout time that beauty provokes pleasure. Following
in the ideas of Plato, Plotinus also preached that there is no
one object that beauty can be defined as nor is there one aspect
of any object that beauty can be defined as. He also believed
that "beauty is that which irradiates symmetry rather than
symmetry itself." Plato created a trend in that beauty cannot
be defined, yet philosophers continued to struggle with the meaning.
Aristotle hypothesized that the senses most prone to recognizing
beauty are sight and hearing.
The eighteenth century
had philosophers such as Locke and Burke who made the comparison
between sublimity and beauty. Locke believe that sublimity and
beauty are not alike because sublimity creates feelings Hof wonder
and awe, and beauty creates feelings of jot and cheerfulness.
Where Burke said that beauty calms one, while sublimity intensifies
one's emotions. Something can be ugly and aesthetically appreciated
at the same time. In the same century there was Hutcheson who
thought that "The word beauty is taken for the idea raised
in us." There was Alison also in the eighteenth century
who took off on Plato's ideas and said it was impossible to find
a common property that all beautiful things contain.
The nineteenth and twentieth
centuries were the first to try and define beaut scientifically.
Laws were attempted to be constructed that could be applied to
the definition of beauty. It was discovered that this method
was too restricting and many scientists soon gave up on the idea
all together. Beauty was later defined as a "term of approbation",
or a value, or higher stature, as apposed to "pretty".
In the end the only thing that remain consistent through time
in philosophizing beauty was that it was indeed to broad to define.
What everyone agreed upon was that it is impossible to find a
common property that all beautiful things contain, and that it
is impossible to define.
The concepts of beauty
were first described by the ancient Greeks. Beauty was a narrowly
defined and a central concept for the Greeks. The classical values
stressed order and serenity. As time went on, the concept of
beauty became less central and is now called aesthetics. Today,
the aesthetic notion of beauty is vague and subjective. We can
see now the concept of beauty developed by tracing its historical
Aesthetics refers to
beauty in an object. The Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates
were the first at aattempting to define beauty. They thought
of objects or nature as being inherently beautiful: beauty is
inside an object. In all attempt to define characteristics of
a beautiful thing they focused on simplicity and symmetry. Beauty
is percieved through sight and hearing. Beauty is not relative,
objects cannot be compared with one another. The beauty within
an object is its pure and ideal beauty. This definition restricted
objects that could be beautiful, such as paintings, tragedies
and comedies, and living creatures. Beauty is excellent, perfect,
and satisfying. The concrete and simple Greek concept of beauty
was enlarged by Plotinus. He rejected beauty as being merely
a formal property. He describes beauty as not just symmetry,
but rather as a quality that "irradiates" and moves
us. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, beauty was an object
property which could be defined by rules. A persons response
to beauty could be described as "pleasure" but the
observers reaction did not define what was considered beautiful.
The Eighteenth Century
In the 18th century the
broader concept of aesthetics was first established by British
philosophers. Art and beauty were now defined based on the experience
of the perciever. That is, beauty is in the eyes of the
beholder. John Locke's "Essay" describes the concept
of the sublime; "amazement" and "awe" as
contrasted with the concept of beauty, which is described as
"joy" and "cheerfulness." Edward Burke added
to this contrast, characterizing the sublime as "terrible"
or emotionally intense. This is compared to beauty, which he
described as pleasurable and relaxing. These two experiences
are incompatible with each other. Burke went as far as to include
ugliness in sublimity. He included a great diversity in the subject
matter as qualifying for the sublime. 18th century philosophers,
such as Francis Hutcheson, struggled with an inherent dilemma
in their concept of beauty. If beauty is based soley on the response
of the perciever, how can this response be documented or observed?
They wanted to find a link between the classical concept of an
observable property, like uniformity and the unobservable property
of evoked experience.
The 19th and 20th
The 19th and 20th centuries
have seen a change in the view of aesthetics, due to attempts
to analyze beauty scientifically. Experiments have tested the
total experience of beauty, and looked at the levels of appreciation
it arouses in terms of pleasure and displeasure. This approach
has provided more conflicts than answers, however, as it does
not take into account objective views and other factors related
to the perception of beauty.
The present century has
tried to draw a distinction between beauty when it implies the
total aesthetic value of an object and when it represents only
one aspect of an object. The first meaning gives an object, like
a sculpture, a total value of its beauty, relative to the sculptures
around it. The value represents the entire object and its experience
as a whole. The second meaning looks at characteristics of an
object to determine its beauty, such as symmetry. It values these
classed types of beauty, rather than the entirety of an object.