Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does Objective Beauty Exist?

I have been wondering on and off for the last several years if there does exist for humans some sort of objective standard for beauty.
I mean, ultimately speaking I definitely agree that what one person finds attractive another person may not. No argument from me there.
 But I think it is really interesting to ask if we can strip the question down to the most basic, fundamental aspects, and perhaps see something universal. To me, there seems to be a rather Catholic quality about that. It is perhaps not a popular theory in contemporary circles, but we Catholics are all about the timeless. Just to be contrarian I kind of want to argue that there does exist an objective, universal standard of beauty.
My interest in this question has grown more or less proportionally to my interest in the art of the Renaissance period. For instance, in Florence I saw this painting in person, and I was absolutely captivated by it.

 Or we could look at the statue of David, the Pieta in St. Peter's, maybe Botticelli's Birth of Venus. 

When we look at one of those, yes, we see a certain cultural mark. We see the Greek standard of beauty in David's body. There are, as I understand it, several Renaissance tropes in Botticelli's work. And clearly the Venus figure is not anatomically plausible.
 But if we separate out those cultural marks, are we left with a standard that we might consider universal? Is it simply a broadly western bias?
 I am not really sure, but I do feel a strong pull towards the objective standard position. At least in some sense of the concept. I really wish I had the time right now to study in depth some form of art criticism.


I feel like tacking on some preliminary conclusions I have drawn after thinking about this question and discussing it today:

I think objective beauty has to be the ability to reflect the Divine, essentially. In a sense religious art and beauty are synonymous because both communicate God. That brings me then to wondering exactly how the Divine manifests itself in the human form. From there obviously we have to point to the Incarnation. Perhaps we should conclude that objective physical beauty is a consequence of God taking on human form. No beauty without Truth, no Truth without Christ.