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The Meaning of Beauty

Updated on June 27, 2012

Surely not much is more difficult to define than beauty. People have attempted to apply an objective meaning to the term in the past, and it is difficult to say which, if any, is correct. Our American society obviously has its idea of beautiful, but not every society agrees with ours. Nor does my personal idea of beauty always match with my family or friends’ ideas of beauty. So the question is whether or not beauty can be pinned down with a definitive meaning, or if it is an abstract idea that only matters on a personal level. I think it may be a combination of the two.

When I hear the word beauty, I get an automatic image placed in my head. I can’t do anything about it. That image is of a scenic landscape somewhere over or under the rainbow. It varies. Now, that image is usually something that in my mind, if I were actually there to witness it, would “take my breath away” so to speak. It certainly may have come from some previous childhood experience, but nevertheless, it is something I associate with immense joy and pleasure. It isn’t just with my thoughts that this happens. I hear a piece of beautiful music and I am almost transcended into a higher sense of wonder and longing. Longing, that is the key term. The feeling last no more than a few moments, and the more I try to capture the initial sensation, the more it slips and fades away. What is it about those images or music that gives me such a sensation? It is difficult to say. Still, these are things that give me reason to want to keep on going. Music, poetry, nature, wine, chocolates, women, these are what give me reason to want to survive. These are the things I consider beautiful. C.S. Lewis once said that “we do not merely want to see beauty, though God knows that is bounty enough. We want something that can hardly be put into words. We want to pass into the beauty we see.” In other words, we want to be united with those things that give us those feelings of indescribable joy, not simply witness them. What that means exactly I truly cannot put into words. I do however think it has something to do with our hearts deepest desire.

There have never been two people who are exactly the same inside and out. We are designed with unique ideas and our experiences shape that immensely. So I think it is safe to say that no one feels exactly the same sensations that I have been describing. Our deepest desires are for those things which gives us the great feelings though. What I am getting at is that we are all different, so we all have different sensations. What does this have to do with the definition of beauty? Well, it makes it ok to say it is a solely individual idea. The fact that we all have differing opinions of what beauty means reveals that fact. So what are we longing for? I believe our insatiable desire for beauty exposes an even deeper desire, a desire for God himself. If our desires can’t be fully obtained, maybe we were made for some other place. A man is made in God’s image, and since the record of our beginnings, man has longed for the beauty and mystery of Eve, and woman has longed for the strength and bravery of Adam. Why is that? It is because we long for the image of God missing from our own gender. That is why a man and woman become one in marriage. On a more fundamental level, I believe that the pleasures of life are there to not only save our lives from drudgery, but to remind us of what we should truly be pursuing. That is God himself.

That is how I see it. We exist in a world of evil and suffering, but there’s a twist to the plot. We are surrounded by things that remind us that we know what we really want, and it’s different for everyone. We see a painting that we can’t take our eyes off of, we hear music that makes us tear up, we see the innocence of a child and we are haunted by the idea that there needs to be more than a mortal existence. That is what beauty is. It is that thing which instills in us a deep desire for something more. It gives us a sense of longing. No one has ever called a piece of art beautiful only because it has a nice color scheme. I would venture to say it is because they are in some way taken by it. It gives them a sense of wonder and makes them sigh and wish there were somehow a way to mingle with the beauty the painting displays. Perhaps I have overstated my case here, but this is the most philosophically correct way I can see to interpret beauty.


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    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      Science has done some amount of research on the questions you've raised. They have been able to arrive at certain conclusions. For instance, in testing for what people find beautiful (or attractive) about one face vs. another is the notion of symmetry. People with more symmetrical features are nearly unanimously found to be more attractive.

      But, I realize you are examining the issue on a more philosophical level.

      I agree that beauty provides us with a sense of transcendence (no matter how fleeting). And I agree that while we all seem able to experience the sensation of beauty, there is a remarkable amount of divergence in the particular objects that evoke this emotion in individuals.

      I also agree that the experience of beauty bypasses our intellect completely zapping something very deep within ourselves. Whether I'm looking at the stars in the night sky or the face of a four-year-old in the supermarket, I can be awed to a sense of speechlessness.

      While one can draw a connection between survival of the species and being able to discern the most attractive mate possible, how do we account for the impact of a sunset, the smooth curvature of waves on a beach, blossoming flowers, the wings of a butterfly, the tones of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a portrait of ballerinas by Degas, the heart-rending writings of Shakespeare?

      Is beauty a conduit through which we glimpse something eternal? Though all beauty fades, for a minute we seem to be transported to some exalted place residing within us. Does beauty resonate within us with such power because it reminds of our pre-conscious years when everything we beheld contained a sense of wonder? Is it a pre-birth experience? For me, it is a complete mystery. I am reminded of William Wordsworth's ode "Intimations of Immortality." I recall these lines:

      Though inland far we be,

      Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

      Which brought us hither,

      Can in a moment travel thither,

      And see the children sport upon the shore,

      And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

    • Sethughes profile image

      Sethughes 5 years ago

      Agreed. We see beauty with our hearts and ought not let our rational and analytical thoughts dominate our feelings and emotions.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Somec deep philosophical thoughts-when we see beauty we know it as when we see ugly we also do but it can be confusing. We need ti interprt things with our mind and our heart(feelings). Keep going!

    • Sethughes profile image

      Sethughes 5 years ago

      Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind words. I believe that statement really reflects the way God intended for us to live and exist.

      Thanks again. I'll be sharing your hubs as well as they are extremely helpful and insightful.

    • HLKeeley profile image

      HL Keeley 5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Oh this was spectacular! I absolutely adore this and sharing this with my friends. How refreshing to hear this from the other gender's mind. :) I absolutely love this line. I never saw it in this way: "A man is made in God’s image, and since the record of our beginnings, man has longed for the beauty and mystery of Eve, and woman has longed for the strength and bravery of Adam."

      Amazing writing! One of my favorite Hubs :)

    • Sethughes profile image

      Sethughes 5 years ago

      Thank you! And thanks for taking the time to read through it. Glad you enjoyed it

    • mattdigiulio profile image

      mattdigiulio 5 years ago

      Nicely done. This idea of beauty is so subjective, and you outline the subject wonderfully. I hope others get a chance to check this out. Voting up.

    • Sethughes profile image

      Sethughes 5 years ago

      Thank you! Im glad you liked it. It truly seems to be different for everyone. Its amazing how unique we all are.

    • Whidbeywriter profile image

      Mary Gaines 5 years ago from Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, Washington

      What a great hub. Thank you for sharing your ideas of what beauty is, different for everyone as in the eye of the beholder. Loved it. Cheers! S