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Why is Art Beautiful?

I feel empowered when I look deep into the past for the presence of beauty .  I get clues and direction there.

Plato said that knowledge was to be found in pure Form and that Form was a type of beauty.  He believed that the best way to know something, to understand Form, was not through our senses, not through the objects in the world, but through thought.

Aristotle disagreed with Plato and contended that Art had the potential to teach us about Form and that Art, or what the Greeks called techne, could be a valuable way of gaining knowledge.  To the Greeks a sculpture,  a poem, or a play was a way to mimic the beauty of pure ideas.

500 years later Plotinus said that Art could represent Form.  “The ugly thing is something that has not been entirely mastered by pattern, that is by Reason, the Matter not yielding at all points and in all respects to Ideal-Form.”  Beauty for Plotinus resided in the object, the sculpture, the poem itself.

Now jump ahead to the 1700’s when both David Hume and Immanuel Kant changed that way of thinking. Hume argued that beauty is subjective and exists not in the object but in the mind. He said that “Beauty..exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”  Today many people still think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Kant straddled the fence on that point.  He believed beauty was subjective but that it wasn’t that simple. Beauty, for Kant, wasn’t only a subjective matter of personal taste because taste changes. Your subjective mind can be taught to appreciate an object’s beauty. Kant didn’t believe beauty resided in the object but he argued we can’t help but think of beauty “as if [beauty] were a property of things.”

To determined whether something was beautiful or whether something is art Kant said you must approach it (judge) in a disinterested manner. Being disinterested meant that you should approach a work of art or even a beautiful sunset without preconceived notions or feelings. It is a way of being subjectively ready for the aesthetic experience about to unfold upon you. A disinterested judgement is about the experience of the object not in you dragging your feelings into the experience.

Hume wrote that we need to prepare ourselves for beauty.  “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty.”

It is a ‘beautiful’ philosophy. It says you have to be poised, “cleared of all prejudice”, open and ready to perceive if you are to experience the beauty that the object has to offer.

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