The Nature of Beauty

Updated: Aug 12, 2020


Beauty—the unknown gift. How is it that there are beautiful things and ugly things? Why is the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” so true yet so false? Why can beautiful things give personal beings tears of joy? How can music, drawings, sculptures, nature, and even one’s persona all be deemed beautiful when they are all so different? Beauty is an axiom and describes and inspires everything right in this world.


First off, it should be mentioned how confusing the English language is. English has words with such broad meanings and also multiple contradictory meanings. The word “beauty” is a perfect example of this. “Beauty” is used in so many contexts that it seems to have no discernible meaning. However, that is not true, it is just that there are different types of beauty. Below is the list of different types of beauty:


Natural Beauty

This beauty is known when a personal being wonders positively or is positively appreciative about the part of nature one is perceiving. Some examples of natural beauty are sunsets, lightning, rainbows, and landscapes.


Complex Beauty

This beauty is found in orderly, complex, and functional things (meaning it serves a purpose). Examples of this are drawings, sculptures, music, and one’s persona.


Idiomatic Beauty

This beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder and is known by something that lifts one’s spirit in a way that piques interests. So, it is positive in nature but also causes one to wonder. Idiomatic beauty can play certain roles in both natural and complex beauty. Below is a helpful picture to help illustrate this idea.


Basically, natural beauty and complex beauty are constants—meaning the things within those two categories are objectively beautiful. However, one’s idiomatic “taste” may blind oneself from some objectively beautiful things but also give one a taste for other objectively beautiful things in those categories. Idiomatic beauty can change as one changes and therefore something perceived to be “ugly” two years ago may be beautiful (beautiful is not “beautiful” because the value of beauty is objective and therefore stays the same whether one has a taste for it or not) today.


The Essence of Knowing Beauty

Beauty can be known or understood by the kindling of the mind. However, due to idiomatic beauty, one may be blind by some inherently beautiful things and some inherently ugly things. So, a non-biased standard for judging beauty must be applied. Something that is beautiful must either be complex, orderly, and/or functional (has a purpose) to have the possibility of being deemed beautiful as well as a positive response to something. A positive response to something is extremely vague so here is a more precise way of looking at it: Beauty inspires creativity and wonder. Beauty could produce a multitude of feelings but none that cause a repulsive reaction. So, “positive,” in this sense, means anything that produces or inspires wonder within the bounds of non-repulsive reactions.


The Harmony of Beauty

Most complex forms of beauty require a type of harmony. One could put a relatively simple looking clock on a wall rather than a complex looking clock on a wall so that it will “fit” in the bigger “picture” or scheme of things. In this case, what makes the simple clock more beautiful than the complex clock is that it is one object of the whole “picture” and that object makes more sense in that context than that of the more complex clock/object. Consider how a painting is made, complex colors and shapes as well as simple colors and shapes are used to form something beautiful. While these different colors and shapes may be senseless and “bland” alone, together and in the right order they can form complex beauty. So too can a house be full of simple decorations and walls painted with simple colors but combined and within the right order, they create complex beauty. Again, idiomatic beauty plays into complex beauty, so what looks beautiful to another may not necessarily look as beautiful to someone else. However, complex beauty is objectively beautiful and therefore retains its value as beautiful whether one sees it or not.


Diving Deeper into Complex Beauty

One’s persona falls under complex beauty. One’s persona is defined by a collection of personal characteristics. For example, Joe is a nice young man. “Nice” and “young” describe what type of man Joe is. One’s idiomatic beauty will determine how one is attracted to the beauty of another. Now, idiomatic beauty is always in flux, always changing based on how the individual is feeling and who the individual is. An example of this is food, if one is not hungry food may not look that appealing, however, if one is hungry then (certain) food will look appealing. As one grows, changes, and gains knew knowledge, one’s idiomatic beauty changes. So, one’s persona may seem beautiful in one circumstance, but ugly in another. However, one’s persona is only beautiful if the personal characteristics that, together, define one’s persona are used properly—making the persona good. So, a good persona is objectively beautiful. This is because in a world with good and evil, both can influence one’s persona and one’s idiomatic beauty. So, if one is consumed with evil then one may see someone being, for example, the “bad boy” as attractive and therefore beautiful—despite the fact that it may be inherently evil. However, for something to be beautiful it must be good.


This is where it gets very interesting, it could be the case that someone may see the beauty in the evil and therefore mistake the whole thing as being beautiful. Someone may like the adventurous or leader-like personality a “bad boy” may have. Apart from the “bad boy,” those are inherently beautiful characteristics, but they are twisted and abused in such a way that they are used for evil. This is why personal characteristics are a part of complex beauty.

Personal characteristics work together to produce a persona—a painting of who someone is.


Side Note: It must be understood that the beautiful or ugly part of a person’s persona has to be expressed. Without one’s characteristics being expressed another cannot then experience one’s inner beauty or ugliness. So, it is in the expression of one’s characteristics that beauty can then be found and defined.


This persona is either a beautiful or an ugly thing. While personal characteristics can stand on their own, it is how some or all are used together that determines how one is perceived.


The Power of Music

Music—a tool that can manipulate the feelings of mankind. Music falls under complex beauty because it is complex, orderly, and functional—in the sense that it serves a purpose. There are mathematical formulas that can be followed to produce songs that resonate with human ears. There is music that can produce sadness, fear, relaxation, and happiness to all that hear it. How in the world is that possible? Music is used in movies to produce certain emotional responses from the viewer. Music is one of the most powerful tools that mankind has. It also clearly shows the objectivity that beauty can have. Consider this: how is it that if a two-year-old plays the piano at random, everyone, from every people group would say it sounds bad? Yet, if a professional piano player played Ludwig van Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata” all people groups would say it sounded good, or was at least better than the two-year-old playing the piano?


Music is the most powerful form of beauty in that it is arguably the most beautiful form of beauty. Music easily points to the objective nature of beauty and also clearly shows the idiomatic beauty of an individual. An individual will prefer certain songs and genres of music over another, yet it is easier for the individual to still see the other non-preferred songs as beautiful.


It could also be said that music points to a God. While beauty, as a whole, can point to a God, music clearly points to a superior personal being (God) whose idiomatic beauty defines what beauty, in its greatest sense, is: complex, orderly, and functional. The idiomatic beauty of this being defines all beauty and therefore its idiomatic beauty, in this sense, is not subjective, but objective. The source of this objectivity is this superior personal being.


The Power of Love

C.S. Lewis has a profound insight into idiomatic beauty: “[Being in love] helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty.”[1]While the category of idiomatic beauty is based on our individual preferences, one can also gain another’s idiomatic beauty when in “love;” which allows for one’s mind to gain a new perspective of what is beautiful and opens up a whole other realm of idiomatic beauty.


Modern Art

Defenders of modern art will most likely say paintings, like those below, are “expressions of the soul.” By this, they mean that the art expresses, most likely, the feelings of the artist. The problem is that if one does not know the artist then how is it even conceivable that the art will

make any sense to an individual? How can the idiomatic beauty of the artist be known through the painting without having the key to decipher the meaning behind the painting (assuming there is meaning)? Technically, modern art falls under the category of beauty, but of the lowest kind. Most modern art can almost be compared to the beauty that is found in a child’s painting. “Almost” is used because while a child creates the painting with, hypothetically speaking, the best of his ability, a fully grown modern artist brings himself down to the level of the child and therefore it could be said that the child’s painting is more beautiful. However, again, this is all in the realm of idiomatic beauty, while there could be some objectivity here, it is best to not grasp at crumbs.


Natural Beauty

Natural Beauty refers to the different landscapes in nature. It could be thought that this should fall under complex beauty. However, a sunset, for example, appears to be very simple and is not very orderly. A rainbow may, in a way, be orderly but it is still very simple. Yet, despite a rainbow or a sunset’s simplicity, one is still awestruck and usually compelled to show others. It could be thought that a sunset is like modern art. However, modern art is disproportionately smaller than a sunset and what makes the sunset great is how it changes the whole landscape into something different and it makes one wonder how it could happen. So, a sunset is not about the seemingly random colors but how those colors affect the clouds and/or the landscape below and where it brings one mind to; whereas, modern art only has the color aspect. Anyways, natural beauty seems to be the type of beauty the produces the most wonder in mankind. It calls to man, claiming that there is something or someone out there…


Conclusion

Beauty can be seen as a gift from this superior personal being. Beauty calls mankind to God and also inspires humans to create. Beauty is abused by the evil in this world, yet it is always there—driving mankind to goodness. Overall, it can be said that beauty is one of the keys to understanding who God is and for what Paul said in Romans 1:20 (HCSB) “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” Through the beauty in this world, one can be led into multiple journeys of thought. These journeys of thought can lead one to profound statements that all lead back to a superior personal being. What a gift…

Bibliography

Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), p. 93.

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