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Developing A Personal Definition For Beauty

Developing a personal definition for beauty

Aesthetics,  an important part of art that branches into the realm of philosophy, deals with the beautiful and the study of what is beauty in art.  The ancient Greeks believed very strongly in ideal beauty.  They believed that beauty could be found in mathematical repetitions and sequences such as the Golden Mean.  Their architecture and sculpture strictly followed these mathematical proportions and harmonies in order to demonstrate the ideal beauty found in mathematics. 

When the word beauty is mentioned, many people today may think of their favorite actor or actress in Hollywood or a model that they wished they looked like.   Often, figures such as these are seen by ordinary people as having perfect bodies and exciting lives.  The idea of idealizing people that we admire is nothing new.  Sculptures of gods and goddesses in ancient Greece, which constitute the majority of the Greek art that survives, were always represented flawlessly.  The ancient Greeks even were interested in the lives of their deities, which were recounted in mythology.  Nonetheless, do figures such as these define the word beauty because they might be seen as being perfect?  

Is it possible that the catchy phrase, “Beauty is only skin deep,” might be false?  By examining a Japanese tea bowl that upon first impression appears to be a simple old pot without any sort of sophistication, the ideals of another culture may shed light on the definition of beauty.  This meager bowl is very important to the Japanese religion known as Zen Buddhism.  It is clear that the tea bowl has the qualities of naturalness, simplicity, understatement, and impermanence as well as loneliness, old age, and tranquility.   These are the most central qualities of the two most important concepts in this religion.  Therefore something that may be overlooked in comparison to a fancy crystal bowl in Western culture is something that by its simplicity represents many facets of Zen Buddhism.  Through contemplating the characteristics of this tea bowl, Japanese can find a form of beauty that comes from the understanding of the importance of the qualities that the tea bowl portrays to the lives of Zen Buddhists.   After learning about other cultures, traditions, and even the way that art evolves, one can come to have a deep appreciation of these things as a result of understanding them. 

By examining Chronos (Saturn) Devouring One of His Children by Francisco de Goya, it may be said that this is a gruesome and nightmarish image.  De Goya was a Romantic painter in the early 19th century who painted many pleasing works for patrons such as King Charles IV of France.  He chose to create works such as this one at his farmhouse outside Madrid for the sole purpose of his own personal viewing.  They reflect his inner outlook on human kind which is clearly pessimistic.  This could be a result of his poor health at the time as well as the many injustices that were around him throughout his life.  The painting represents the Greek god Chronos whose name is associated with time.  From this association the painting expresses the despair over the passing of time as Chronos devours his son.  Sadness over the passing of time is something that all humans will probably experience at some point in their lives.  Through the understanding of the personal meaning behind the work is it possible to find meaning and therefore beauty in such a gruesome image?

Another work that might arouse discussion of the term beauty is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. designed by Maya Lin in 1982.  The memorial is made of black granite and has the names of about 58,000 Americans engraved in it.  The war that it represents is an unforgettable event in which many people lost their lives.  Maya Lin designed the memorial when she was only twenty-two years old and an architecture student at Yale University.  Her intent for the memorial was to cut into the earth like a wound that would later heal.   She wrote about the work, “I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth,  opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal.  The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure flat surface in the earth with a polished, mirrored surface, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it and polish the edge.”  Engraved with the names of the dead, the surface “would be an interface, between our world and the quieter, darker, more peaceful world beyond…I never looked at the memorial as a wall, an object, but as an edge to the earth, an opened side.”

Despite the deadly war that the memorial depicts, is it possible to find beauty in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial based on what it represents?  Beauty is something that is constantly debated and discussed and can represent different things for different people.  Through knowledge and understanding of things such as different cultures, art,  history, people, world events, and many other aspects of life, it is possible to find beauty in these things.  When one learns to find beauty it is evident that one has gained an understanding and therefore an appreciation for these things.   In order to understand and appreciate a broad variety of different kinds of art other than the things one might like prior to its study, it is important to learn about the media that are involved in art making, the processes that artists undergo to make their art, the history and development of art since Paleolithic times, and the cultural influences that have affected the art. 

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