TOK: #14 – Art and Beauty

Do you think that theories such as the elements and principles of design or the Darwinian explanation of art proposed by Dutton mean that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder?

Provide claims with examples in support of this KQ, and counter-claims and examples.

One can argue that because of the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian explanation of art proposed by Dutton, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. This is because the elements and principles and design and the Darwinian explanation both essentially define what makes something look aesthetically appealing to us. When explaining the Darwinian theory of beauty, Dutton states that “beauty is an adaptive effect” and is a result of the evolved human psychology. Thus, although we may not be aware of it, we all have the same idea of what is beauty in our minds. Not only is our perception of beauty a result of natural selection, but there are also many different things that result from this process that we may not be aware of. For example, the fear of heights is a result of natural selection, which explains why many people share this common fear. Relating this back to art and beauty, an example could be a sunset, which many people consider to be beautiful. Similarly, many people can also find beauty in the same piece of artwork. For example, Vincent van Gogh’s starry night is a famous piece of work that many people appreciate. Although people may not realize, it is partly because of the way van Gogh uses different elements and principles of design in the piece to create an aesthetically appealing artwork. For instance, the painting uses a lot of line which creates movement, especially in the sky surrounding the stars. The use of color also creates contrast between the dark night sky and the stars. Thus, the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian theory of beauty show that beauty does not lie in the eye of the beholder, and is in fact determined by specific aspects or natural selection, explaining why many people find beauty in the same things.

On the other hand, one can also argue that regardless of the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian explanation of art, beauty still lies in the eye of the beholder. Ultimately, whether something is beautiful or not is based on our own opinion and is subjective. Though those ideas can provide and guideline for what is considered aesthetically appealing or provide support for why we think something looks beautiful, our own perspective on beauty is still based on our own opinion in the end, and thus beauty still lies in the eye of the beholder. A piece of artwork can incorporate many elements and principles of design effectively, but someone may still find it not aesthetically appealing. Relating to the example given above, even though van Gogh’s Starry Night uses many elements and principles of art, this still does not guarantee that every single person would think the artwork is beautiful. They may not like the composition of the piece, or the meaning behind it, etc., thus showing that beauty still lies in the eye of the beholder. In art, it is possible for many people to interpret the same piece differently based on their imagination, past experiences or simply personal taste, and because whether or not they find a piece beautiful is partly based on how they interpret the piece, beauty is still subjective and does lies in the eye of the beholder.

Thus, even though the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian theory of beauty provide “rules” or support why many people have a common idea of what beauty is – showing that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder – ultimately, our idea of beauty is still based on our own opinion and interpretation of the artwork which cannot be determined and fixed by theories.

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