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…