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The Eye of Beauty

March 28, 2009

It has been said that “beauty rests in the eye of the beholder.”  Some find comfort in this and will accept it as a true statement being that it provides an answer to the variety of tastes people possess.  What more appropriate way of explaining why some prefer Country music and others Rock, or of preferences for blue Chevys over red Fords?  This axiom gives hope for those lacking in beauty that someone will see them as beautiful because beauty rests in the eye of the beholder.  Regardless of the comfort this may provide, the notion that beauty rests in the eye of the beholder looses sight of and draws attention away from genuine beauty.


When one makes the recognition that something or someone is “lacking in beauty,” he or she begins with the assumption that beauty is some type of universal ideal that a person or thing either possesses or lacks.  Beauty is a reality that either is or is not, and cannot be questioned or redefined.  In other words, one cannot look at something and call it beautiful if it is not beautiful.  Claiming to “see something as beautiful” in one’s own eyes attempts to subjugate beauty to a realm of conditionality that can call something beautiful if it is viewed as such, or even reject beauty from something that may posses it.


The phrase “beauty rests in the eye of the beholder” expresses a particular desire to internalize the reality of beauty for any number or reasons.  One possible reason is the fear and rejection of the material world. 


The Hebrew sage Qohelet offers an alternative understanding for beauty when he asserts that, “‘et-hakol ‘asah yapheh be’ito,” “he made everything beautiful in its time.”  The language here echoes the words of Genesis after God examines everything that he made and declares that it is “tov me’od,” “very good.”  If one were to accept this declaration the traditional axiom of beauty could be restated as, “beauty rests in the speech of the creator.”


The restated axiom affirms that the creator designed creation according to a particular order or pattern embedded within the creation.  When something, anything, appropriately corresponds to its created order it is beautiful.  Beauty embodies a physical form according to a non-physical nature.  Beauty is unconditional in so far as it is only what it can be, but conditional when it is placed within alien contexts.  The unconditional nature of beauty holds that one cannot make something beautiful outside of its time.  Outside of its time beauty is veiled giving way to what is ugly.  This disruption of beauty denotes its conditional nature.  Beauty’s conditionality does not rests upon my authority, but the authority of creation.  We are “makers” of beauty only in so far as we mimic the order of creation, as we adhere to the pattern already laid. 


It is no argument that Mt. Shasta in northern California is beautiful.  But suppose living a lifetime seeing the white peaks of Shasta every winter and enjoying those slopes with a pair of skis or a board only to witness the tragedy of a white-less winter.  For the peaks of Shasta to stand bare in the middle of winter, to look like summer in winter, would present a mountainous state absent of beauty.


The absence of beauty signals a violation of justice and of what is appropriate or good.




From → Philosophy, Theology

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