The fact that beauty is still a hotly debated topic today after centuries of contemplation, research and academic discourse is a sign of the subject’s intricacy and intangibility. Views have been formed, refuted, reinstated and scrapped again over time, with each version only able to grasp a few select and disjointed aspects of the of beauty, it’s origin, and its effects on the beholder. While we may not have (or ever arrive upon) a final and universal definition and understanding of beauty, we do have a storehouse of anecdotes about beauty thanks to the works of intellectual giants like Aristotle, Plato, Bharatamuni, Humes, Kant and many more.
One of the prime concerns of beauty is the question of whether it is Objective or Subjective. Indian Scholars did away with this issue (or probably never came upon it in the first place) with the concept of Rasa. It acknowledges that beauty is subjective (i.e. the viewers must have the faculties to experience it for it to exist. In particular, viewers are thought to have a few (9 to be precise) permanent emotions called Sthayi-Bhavas, , which can be triggered to form other fleeting and transient emotions called Vyabichari-Bhavas), whereas the work itself is an objectification of the Artist’s thoughts and experiences (which are again subjective). Indian scholars also made a radical observation that emotions caused by art are markedly different from emotions caused by real life circumstances and experiences, which explains why people enjoy undesirable emotions like sadness or fear in art, while simultaneously trying to avoid feeling these in real life.
Western Philosophers had a harder time with the concept of the situation of Beauty, with many claiming that beauty is “innate” to the object, and arises from its proportions and the relation of the parts to the whole. Arguments of people from this group (including Euclid and Plato) took up an almost mathematical approach. Others claimed that beauty only exists in the mind of the viewer, and is based on their character and past experiences. Kant in particular, tried to separate “Real Beauty” from other forms by claiming that true beauty can only be perceived if there are no prejudices and predetermined assumptions on the part of the viewer. This “dispassionate” observance of object would lead the audience to like (or dislike) an object purely based on its visual, auditory or tactile form, with no connections to its use or context. Still more tried to do a middling walk between the two extremes, accepting that though beauty is based on the taste of the individual, we could comment upon a person’s taste, and hence, Beauty can be more accurately determined and critiqued by people who are accepted to have good taste.
Another concern revolved around the question of what attributes are possessed by objects that are perceived to be beautiful. The answers ranged from symmetry and proportion during the Classical Period to context and use in more recent eras. As mentioned above, Kant wanted the evaluation of the beauty of objects to be unhinged from its significance in the real world. He viewed beauty to be a measure of the artist’s ability to represent abstract concepts and ideas and nothing more. Beauty has also been treated as an expression of wanting to possess something, be it objects or their attributes. This want may be caused by the object’s usefulness, value, or an irrational affection towards certain forms and colors. Plato, although from the Classic Era, mentions that objects that are apt for their role are beautiful by the virtue of their ability to serve a purpose, and serve it well. Still others have explored the concept of Beauty that arises from the context of the object and the reactions/emotions it causes in its viewers.
Indian philosophers claimed that beauty lay in the ability of art to take the viewer into the mind of the artist, and share his/her emotions and mental state through the medium of art. Art was designed to elicit the 9 Rasas from the viewers, and obtain reactions that are “not ordinary”, in reference to how different these aesthetic experiences are in relation to real life emotions. Indian Art also did not stick to realism, and often had exaggerated forms and expressions, unlike Western Art which considered realism to be a part of the beauty of art during the earlier eras. This minor difference in the way art and beauty was perceived by Indian and Western philosophers has caused art to evolve in radically different ways.
In conclusion, Beauty is a subjective perception that is caused by objective entities and representations that lead to an aesthetic experience. Any piece of art or any object that produces strong emotions in a pleasurable manner in a viewer is Beautiful. The virtue of an artist is dependant on his/her ability to make people think and react in certain ways to his/her art, which might be heavily dependant on context, usefulness of end product and the prior experiences, states and preferences of the audience.