The fallacy of “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”

We love flowers. We use flowers in our romance, we gift bouquets to our friends on special occasions. Flowers let us share happiness and good wishes with many, thanks to their beauty. We love watching beautiful waterfalls. We get excited, as if we were children, when there is a beautiful rainbow in the sky. We adore iconic beautiful actresses. From Marilyn Monroe to Ingrid Bergman, from Nutan to Madhubala, they hold us spellbound with their hypnotic beauty.tumblr_m5koufOOSu1qkmctto1_500

Does the flower know it is beautiful? Is every drop in those waterfalls aware that is is contributing, in its own way, to the beauty of grandeur? Does a rainbow even know about its constituent refracted colors in the human visible spectrum? Would these actresses have realized their own beauty if there were no glass mirrors or if there was no audience publicity mirror?

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” is a mainstream phrase in communication. It is frequently used to denote subjectivity in beauty. What I might find disgusting, you may find beautiful, is the subjectivity substantiated and rationalized with this oft-used phrase.

What is missing from this obsessive focus on subjective interpretation of beauty is the inherent manifestation of beauty in the object or in the cognition of its creator. Did the Mona Lisa know how many centuries she would continue to mystify art lovers?

Did Da Vinci know that his painting would continue to mystify art lovers for centuries? Did Michelangelo know that the objects of art he was creating would be revered forever? Are the subjective opinions of Van Gogh’s works during his lifetime a definitive assertion of their lack of beauty? Were these works ugly when created and only gain beauty later when beholders’ eyes started perceiving their beauty? Or were they inherently, intrinsically beautiful when created, though no beholders’ eyes saw the beauty?

Does the audience’s response during the first performance of The Rite of Spring determine its beauty? Did Galileo’s telescope lack beauty because those who beheld it in his lifetime had a different conception of beauty and lacked his vision of looking towards the heavens? (To those who still do, he has an everlasting response). Are those of us who think it was beautiful delusional as we have never even laid eyes on his telescope and thus do not have a right to a beholders’ opinion?

Is beauty really subjective if you consider the question over hundreds of years? Do we think our Instagram photos are going to be considered “beautiful” by human generations in 2050, or 2200, irrespective of the “Likes” we get in 2014? At the same time, do we think the 2050 generation is not going to look at any photographs taken in 2014 and consider them beautiful?

It is easier for us to appreciate art inspired by natural beauty than one based on pure human imagination. From landscape paintings to origami craft, from Beethoven’s Pastorale to national anthems, we easily perceive their beauty, but find abstract imaginative art challenging to appreciate. Why?

Because we can associate and relate to the beauty of a natural-inspired work with our own experiences of that object’s inherent beauty – whether it is a landscape, a beautiful bird, the countryside, or our patriotic emotions. Appreciation of beauty derives through association and relation. If one is able to associate with or relate to the object, one is able to appreciate the beauty of the object. Does this mean the beauty of the object lies completely in the eyes of the beholder or is there intrinsic beauty in the object itself?

Yet, after centuries of human existence, we continue to employ and focus on the phrase “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Does it, really? By definition, beholding means to observe, to gaze upon.

Beholding does not, by definition, involve comprehension, relation, or association of any kind.

Why have we not progressed towards the acceptance of the fact that beauty can lie inherent within the object that is being observed and that it is only via its interpretations through art that we come to realize its beauty?

The concept of the “eye of the beholder” is a subjective detriment, an obstacle, to the classical concept of beauty, which seems to hold true over time. Those who live by that phrase, those who profit from it, and those who accept it, either have an agenda or are being very short-sighted about beauty.

Beauty lies in the object itself, artists help us discern it. The “eye of the beholder” concept is a crutch invented by us ordinary humans who fail to perceive the innate beauty in the object itself.

The beholder is usually blind, the artist is the one who sees the beauty. The beauty exists, whether there is an artist who sees it or a beholder who is blind to it.

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  • Prasoon

    Lovely! This post is beautiful and I bet the post doesn’t know it 😉

  • Jyoti Chettri

    Good to see things from a different angle…your article left me thinking…