Beauty is often defined as a subjective aspect of objects which makes these objects enjoyable to see. These objects include sunsets, landscapes, humans and other works of artwork. Beauty, along with personal taste and aesthetics, is presently the most important theme of aesthetics, among the various branches of traditional philosophy. In fact, the word ‘esthetic’ derives from the Greek word ‘aktoria’, meaning ‘the appreciation of beauty’.
The discipline of aesthetics has its antecedents in classical Greece and its obvious influence on ancient art. The ancients appreciated beauty in almost all natural objects including plants and the visible aspects of mountain ranges. The influence of Greek aesthetics can be seen in such art forms as the frescoes of ancient Greece or the artistic representations of nature and landscape found on ancient cave paintings. However, it was the works of painters in the Western world who first gave the term ‘aesthetic value’ to beauty, thereby replacing the ancients’ subjective approach to beauty with a systematic approach to beauty. This new system – aesthetics -on the one hand sought to explain the visual effects of a work of art through the aesthetic qualities it had; on the other, rationalized the very subjective nature of beauty through a rational framework.
According to the modern-day aesthetics, beauty is judged by the sum of its parts rather than by their wholesome perfection. Beauty, they believe, is determined by the eye, the touch and the sense of smell. This means that beauty consists of more than the physical satisfaction of the eye, the sense of sight and the soothing effect of smell. Modern aesthetics thus teaches that beauty lies more in the eye than in any other part of the body. It therefore makes a distinction between the subjective qualities of beauty such as emotional appeal, and the objective qualities of beauty such as aesthetic worth.
However, aesthetics differs from aesthetic theory in that the former does not seek to define the ‘grounds’ of beauty. While aesthetics seeks to reveal the ‘grounds’ of beauty in terms of the human form and its relations to the environment, aesthetic theory tends to seek to reveal the ‘grounds’ of beauty in terms of the human mind and its relations to the environment. Both theories argue that the human form is determined by human activities, social interactions and technological developments. Meanwhile, aesthetics focuses on the human mind. It attempts to define beauty through the mirror-image of beauty-the face or the figure seen in front of the eye.
However, the greatest difference between the two theories is that aesthetics believes that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, while aesthetic theory believes that beauty exists in the mind of the creator. Both therefore believe that beauty is subjective. They further differentiate aesthetics from beautification, which is the subjective appreciation of beauty in terms of personal assessment. It further distinguishes aesthetic beauty from value judgment, which is the subjective assessment of value in terms of money. Finally, aesthetics believes that beauty exists in human kind of spirit, whereas beauty exists as an object in the mind of man.
The debate between aesthetics and beautification is not a simple one. On one side are aestheticians who declare that beauty is an objective quality independent of human form and that it can be found in man as well as in objects. On the other are aestheticians who argue that beauty is a subjective quality dependent upon the mental perceptions of an individual. These schools of thought are both equally adamant that beauty is a subjective quality dependent upon the individual’s consciousness and ideas.