What does it mean to say that something is “beautiful”?
“Beauty”: philosophical absolute and bone of contention. Like everything else we should blame it on the Greeks. “Beautiful” has been (and still is) the gold standard of conservative art critics and laymen alike. If a work is “not beautiful”, it’s “not art”. The unnuanced liberal reaction to this is to say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, meaning “Not Beautiful? Says you!”
But we like closure, control. Opposites, (like ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’) can’t exist harmoniously. Not logical. OK, forget ‘beauty’. Insert Creativity, Self-Expression, Societal Critique, Undermining Norms, “Who am I?“.
Art is what the artist creates: Exclude the unwashed masses (how beastly the bourgeoise is): Create propaganda for the choir. Award ceremonies where we call eachother ‘genius’ and laud the emperor’s designer wardrobe. Where am I going and why am I in a handbasket? Tell you something you don’t know.
An intelligent or aesthetically sensitive conservative realizes that an artwork that is purely “beautiful”, according to the standard usage of the term, isn’t very pleasant or meaningful or worthwhile and frankly makes one a little sick to one’s stomach (insert your favorite Thomas Kinkade joke here).
Fine, we’ll just change the definition of Beauty (may She live forever). Now it includes things that are ugly, Realism, the Fear of the Lord. After all, Jesus wasn’t beautiful (this I know, for the Bible tells me so), but since he was the Ideal Man (thank you, Plato), he must have been Beautiful. Conversely, all evil things must be Ugly, if we are really Godly. And so we declare pornstars ugly.
Which just ain’t true, or she wouldn’t be making money. Her job is evil and ought to be repulsive, and this godly visceral reaction to the magnitude of her sin and folly might reflect upon her person in our mind, but that does not make her “ugly”. She is “beautiful”, which compounds the problem. You see, you can’t make a distinction between Beauty and beauty. Capitalize all you want, the distinction is all in your head.
But to question Beauty as an ideal in art or life is heresy, a denial of the second person of the classical humanist trinity (Truth, Beauty, Goodness). So here goes:
I deny that there is any ideal or form called Beauty for which we ought to strive, regardless of the context. Beauty is, in a very real sense, in the eye of the beholder.
“Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”