Why You Should Never Say: ‘Beauty Lies in the Eye of the Beholder’
July 30, 2015 8:07 AM   Subscribe

"When we use the phrase, what we seem to be trying to say is that there should be a lot of room for intelligent disagreement around aesthetics – and that we don’t feel comfortable about asserting the superiority of any one style or approach over any other. It implies an acute sensitivity to conflict and a fear of being rude or mean to others. However, by resorting to the phrase, what we actually do is unleash a stranger and more reckless situation: what we’re in effect stating is that nothing is ever really more beautiful – or uglier – than anything else. This suggestion then has a way of implying that the whole subject is essentially trivial. After all, we’d never say that truths about the economy or justice were in the eyes of beholders only. We know that big things are at stake here – and over time, we’ve come to positions about the right and wrong way of approaching these topics, and are ready to discuss and defend our ideas. We wouldn’t ever say that ‘the treatment of the poor is just a subject best left entirely to the eyes of beholders’ or ‘the best way to raise children is in the eyes of beholders,’ or ‘the future of the environment is in the eyes of beholders.’ We accept that there are dangers to arguing in aggressive and unfruitful ways; but we are confident that there are sensible and polite ways to advance through these tricky yet vital debates. The same should feel true around beauty."
posted by beisny (96 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was really comforted by that photo of the Amsterdam canal houses. It's liberating to learn that that ubiquitous neo-modern look wasn't just drummed up as a punishment for American urban gentrifiers.
posted by deathmaven at 8:16 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Having suffered down to the silly And it might then be logical to suggest that it would be OK to pull down the houses and replace them with a rubbish dump, I'm wondering if this phrase with the power to silence isn't directed very specifically at the author, who isn't taking the hint.
posted by wotsac at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


The author misses the point that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is very much a social thing. It's a polite way of ending an argument with a smile, while everyone smugly thinks they're eye is the best as they drift out of the conversation and to wherever the alcohol and/or snacks are.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2015 [24 favorites]


This article is idiocy.
posted by barnacles at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2015 [29 favorites]


what we’re in effect stating is that nothing is ever really more beautiful – or uglier – than anything else. This suggestion then has a way of implying that the whole subject is essentially trivial.


Only if you believe the subjective is trivial. I'd say that for most of us, it's more important than anything else.
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


Look, it's on a web site called The Book of Life. It's incisiveness and profundity cannot be disputed.
posted by XMLicious at 8:30 AM on July 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


Similarly, we would seldom say that music was in the ears of beholders

Ha. I doubt the author is listening very far afield where it comes to music.
posted by Foosnark at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Would we be permitted to say that stupidity is in the eye of the reader?
posted by fredludd at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Similarly, we would seldom say that music was in the ears of beholders

Has this person ever talked to any other humans??
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:33 AM on July 30, 2015 [35 favorites]


I wasn't aware that there was an ISO standard for measuring beauty. HOORAY... question mark?
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:34 AM on July 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Man, this article is just terrible. There is a very legitimate point to be made that using the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" can shut down otherwise interesting conversations, but to go from this observation of social practice to the conclusions that therefore relativism in aesthetics is wrong and therefore, implicitly, "beauty" is an objective quality of some works is entirely unjustified.

For a start, no one really believes in it to its core.

I do! And I would suggest that it is implicit in modernist art and verging on explicitly stated in postmodern art. Did Cage think his music was as beautiful as Bach? I would guess yes but given Cage's reliance on chance operations in his music I'm not sure how he could be said to think that beauty is a quality that inheres objects.

but we don’t actually think that all tastes are equal

Why don't we? If you are going to claim that some tastes are more equal than others then you'd better have a really compelling argument at hand.

After all, we’d never say that truths about the economy or justice were in the eyes of beholders only. We know that big things are at stake here – and over time, we’ve come to positions about the right and wrong way of approaching these topics, and are ready to discuss and defend our ideas. We wouldn’t ever say that ‘the treatment of the poor is just a subject best left entirely to the eyes of beholders’ or ‘the best way to raise children is in the eyes of beholders,’ or ‘the future of the environment is in the eyes of beholders.’ We accept that there are dangers to arguing in aggressive and unfruitful ways; but we are confident that there are sensible and polite ways to advance through these tricky yet vital debates. The same should feel true around beauty.

Argh. To quote Cage "there are no aesthetic emergencies". Agreeing on the symbol for poison is important. But with art it really does not matter if someone likes something and someone else doesn't.

But now to get back to a point I made earlier, if aesthetics are not relative then what is the only other conclusion? That beauty must be a quality that inheres objects. This is a bold claim and one that the author, curiously, does not address!

It is worth mentioning that while we might agree that there is no objective quality (ie, some property that inheres the works in question) that makes one work more beautiful than another, we do have preferences. And that's fine. It is also worth noting that we can meaningfully discuss some qualities of the artworks in question, like structure and form and technique and context and these observations can inform interesting dialogue even when married to our preferences.

But yeah, sure, it is really nice when people engage in spirited discussion about art and beauty and we should encourage that and if the phrase "beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder" discourages such discussions then we should be wary of using it. But everything else this person said is dubious and certainly lacking in any rigorous defence of some rather bold claims.
posted by bfootdav at 8:34 AM on July 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


Similarly, we would seldom say that music was in the ears of beholders

Your favorite band sucks. Do you even music, bro ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:36 AM on July 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


this article is the sort of thing you maybe test out one night your sophomore year of college, when you and your friends are all packed into a corner booth at some shitty bar and you've smoked a LOT of pot and you are trying to convince someone you're both "deep" and "edgy" so they'll rub their parts on your parts.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:37 AM on July 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm not finding much beauty in TFA, but if your opinion is different I'm OK with that.
posted by achrise at 8:37 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay I don't mean to join a pile-on but this:

After all, we’d never say that truths about the economy or justice were in the eyes of beholders only.

is a lot less uncontroversial than the author seems to think. I could make some compelling arguments that matters of economy and justice are, if not entirely subjective, certainly socially constructed and the products of historical and circumstantial contingency.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:38 AM on July 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


"... we’d never say that truths about the economy or justice were in the eyes of beholders only."

a homeless person would say 500 dollars is a heck of a lot of money; now show that amount to Bill Gates...some things can be factual in that they can be measured. Still, even measurement might seem a subjective thing to different people.
How old are you? What would a 80 year old say about your age? What would a 15 year old say about it?
posted by Postroad at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


De gustibus non est disputandum
posted by mfoight at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Holy false equivalency, Batman!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2015


I had a feeling that this was related to a certain writer. With a little research via the websites I was right. It all goes back to Alain De Botton. Scroll down to who started the school. I liked his Proust book, but his later stuff struck me as pretty lame. But! It's all in the mind of the beholder.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:47 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Argh. To quote Cage "there are no aesthetic emergencies". Agreeing on the symbol for poison is important. But with art it really does not matter if someone likes something and someone else doesn't.

"GREETINGS PEOPLE OF EARTH. We have traveled unimaginable distances to contact you. We hold the answers to all of your problems, from repairing your damaged climate to ending all bigotry, and will be happy to share them with you if you can provide a sample work of art that our top Xargonian art critic gives a favorable review to. A negative review means instant annihilation of your planet.

This may seem arbitrary and cruel, but over the countless eons spent contacting lesser species, we have found this to be the most efficient and hilarious way to go about this."
posted by Sangermaine at 8:47 AM on July 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


> Similarly, we would seldom say that music was in the ears of beholders

That's because beholders don't have ears!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:47 AM on July 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


We're being trolled, right? Other selections from The Book of Life:

The Problems of Being Very Beautiful
Would It Be Better for Your Job If You Were Celibate?
On Maniacs and Murderers
posted by zamboni at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


An antidote to this idiocy: Of the Standard of Taste.
posted by dis_integration at 8:50 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Everything that I like is objectively good.

Many of the things you like are objectively bad.

Please give me a paid column in the New Yorker.
posted by Avenger at 8:52 AM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


You know, I really wish that I had the luxury of thinking that the word "beauty," and judgements thereof, applied primarily to architecture, rather than to people. Because to me, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a statement about my worth and the fact that I am not an unlovable, garbage person just because I don't totally fit into certain mainstream ideas about femininity. (And I mean, I do mostly fit into mainstream ideas about femininity. I'm just not literally a supermodel.) You have to have a certain kind of privilege to think that we should ban that phrase because of houses in Amsterdam.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:53 AM on July 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


Obligatory Wondermark
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a feeling that if you follow this writer's reasoning far enough down the road, there's a good chance you end up in a rather weird version of Plato's Ideal Forms, held together by mountains of neurological research and brain scans that attempt to convince you that abstract concepts like beauty can be scientifically quantified and measured, and are universal among all humans.

While such things are done today, with ad companies using brain scans to create more effective ads, and record companies doing the same to find the songs with the most effective hooks to create the most successful hit songs, they are never going to be universally effective for everyone. It's rather like they are trying to get the highest score in some fancy pinball game as if the score itself is the only important measure of quality, and never considering the idea that many people play the fancy pinball game because it's fun, and the points aren't really that important compared to the experience of playing.
posted by chambers at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


De gustibus non est disputandum

I've sometimes puzzled over what the intent of that phrase was. If the translation is taste must not be argued over, then you have wonder if the intent was that sensible people don't argue over aesthetics because it's rude, or contentious, or simply futile. In searching for context, I could find nothing earlier than1606. (No classical usage, which makes sense given the syntax (non disputandum est). Earlier citations, of course, welcome.)

So is taste a moral issue? Maybe yes, maybe no, but - Science to the rescue! - offensive art apparently really does leave a bad taste in your mouth. Make of that what you will.
posted by BWA at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Book of Life appears to be an offshoot of The School of Life, which was founded by Alain de Botton, among others.
posted by Kabanos at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2015


The only way this can work is if you grant that beauty is not defined as simply a response of an internal disposition that someone has to certain visual stimuli, as those can be very arbitrary. I actually do think that there are objective norms of beauty that are somewhat platonic and written into the fabric of the universe, to be unearthed and discovered more than they are created; but you would have to argue why this is to be the case, rather than just relying on consequences that you don't like (namely, the reckless consequences that he names). However, he does something of an "argument by example" that is pretty interesting. He's relies a lot on ostensive examples that he points to, which is pretty powerful for at least making you think about your definition (a urine soaked dump, for example, is a hard sell for beauty no matter who you are). So all he has to do is show that there are obvious and universally accepted exceptions to the definition to show that the definition itself does not have all of the necessary and sufficient conditions to capture the entirety of the discussion (namely it's all in the eye of the beholder), which opens the door for additional discussion. What are the more objective criteria, for example, that might differentiate a urine soaked dump from a Rembrant? It feels hollow to say it's all simply subjective, when entire disciplines have been built around appreciating art history which, when done right, can hit pretty solidly at the core of what we feel it is to be essentially human.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2015


Didn't Thomas Mann cover this already in Death in Venice?
posted by Nevin at 9:10 AM on July 30, 2015


Friend of mine got a job for a year on a tropical Island off the coast of central America. Invites a few of us down to visit him. We arrive to some of the most lush vegetation and beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. First place he takes us? The island landfill. He was so excited to show it to us for reasons I still haven't worked out to this day (other than he's just kind of generally bonkers). He was kind of disappointed that our response was "this is stupid, can we please go to the beach now?"

But after that it became an inside joke among my friends to send pictures of local garbage to each other when we went on vacation.

I don't really have a point here, other than I'm not sure what this article was trying to convince me of.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:11 AM on July 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Man this argument is ridiculous. I personally believe in beauty almost to the point of my beliefs on the subject being transcendental nonsense or a kind of pseudo-religious faith, but even I recognize it's a highly idiosyncratic, personal ideal I believe in as I say that, and that always--whether beauty reduces to something that's only in the eye of the beholder or not--it's definitely something that's at least in the eye of the beholder, too (if you can figure out how to parse that convoluted thought).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:14 AM on July 30, 2015


bfootdav: "For a start, no one really believes in it to its core.

I do!
"

If you really believed it to its core, you wouldn't have felt a need to argue against his hypothesis.

Its clear that the author's hypothesis seems ugly to you and you are explaining to others why it is ugly. If you really believed that "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" you wouldn't think of trying to bring others around your point of view that this hypothesis is ugly.

After all, your measurement of its beauty is no better or worse than (or comparable against) someone else's measurement of this hypothesis's beauty.

If you really completely believed that "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" you would just say that I believe this hypothesis is ugly and leave the conversation at that point.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:20 AM on July 30, 2015


As a young'n I was taken to a landfill on vacation once, to see bears. Were there bears? I wonder of /r/photosoflandfill exists?
posted by sammyo at 9:20 AM on July 30, 2015


That expression just throws me right back to 3rd Edition D&D and the awesome idea of a Beholder just nailing it as a guest judge on Project Runway, being appropriately catty with Michael Kors and every once in a while popping back to check in the contestants' with Tim Gunn, casting Flesh to Stone on anyone that gives him a bit too much sass.
posted by Shepherd at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


also I will start playing D&D again if somebody would let me rock this specialty class
posted by Shepherd at 9:26 AM on July 30, 2015


I wish there were a byline on that article. It reads like something Alain de Botton would have written.
posted by adamrice at 9:26 AM on July 30, 2015


TheLittlePrince:

> If you really believed it to its core, you wouldn't have felt a need to argue against his hypothesis.

Not true. The author's argument is one of philosophy not an aesthetic reaction to a work of art.

> Its clear that the author's hypothesis seems ugly to you and you are explaining to others why it is ugly.

It is not at all clear to me that I think the hypothesis is ugly. I think it's wrong. The distinction is important. At some point maybe I'll reassess the essay on more purely aesthetic grounds and then we'll see. Superficially I do kind of like the overall design of the site but that doesn't really have anything to do with the aesthetic quality of the prose. I wish I had such a clear view of what goes on in my mind as you do.

> If you really completely believed that "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" you would just say that I believe this hypothesis is ugly and leave the conversation at that point.

Aside from having answered your claims above, I did also say that we have preferences and that engaging in spirited discussion about our reactions to a work can be enjoyable and maybe even edifying. So even if your hypothesis had any truth about it I would still be justified in expounding on my views just for the sake of conversation. I also stated that there are objective qualities to works like structure and form and that these can meaningfully discussed. I didn't discuss those qualities but they would fall under aesthetic considerations.
posted by bfootdav at 9:29 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


There is a very legitimate point to be made that using the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" can shut down otherwise interesting conversations

I have to agree with Brandon that the person actually saying this is not usually having a conversation that's interesting to them. That's why they said it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:33 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's funny, when they described the landfill smelling of shit and piss, and the next photo was of a bunch of hum-drum houses on a canal, I immediately thought "odds are good that's exactly what that place smells like, too."

The final picture, was that meant as an example of beauty or ugliness? (The photos all fail to assert what the author thinks they assert. I assume the "art" photo at the top was meant to do the same, in a "haha modern art" way?)

One word summary of this article: smug. I should note that smugness is not an arbitrary construct and that my conclusion is not open to debate.

I haven't dared click on the "capitalism" sidebar item on that site, I cannot even imagine what hosannas in the form of "insights" are under it.
posted by maxwelton at 9:43 AM on July 30, 2015


I wasn't aware that there was an ISO standard for measuring beauty. HOORAY... question mark?

Don't worry. The ANSI and SAE standards completely conflict with it.
posted by eriko at 9:50 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Everything that I like is objectively good.

Many of the things you like are objectively bad.

Please give me a paid column in the New Yorker.


I think we should go the other way, and work to minimize the social shame in admitting you like bad things. Me? I love Foreigner, Taco Bell and the movie 'End of Days'. These things are all objectively terrible, but that doesn't mean I can't like them. With 'End of Days', I'm pretty sure I *LIKE* like it, as in I would ask it to prom. That's fine! Being into crap is fine, just OWN it people. Sometimes I have to take a break from being into awesome stuff that is the best, and just enjoy some stupid crap.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:00 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


In discussing the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Alain De Botton writes, "A subjective theory of beauty makes the observer wonderfully indispensable."
posted by Quaversalis at 10:03 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is a period of life, for many people, during which the revelation that different people truly perceive the world differently can be a great revelation. For many, it is a very short period, but still intense enough to make it difficult to engage them in a rational argument, as they, for a while, come to wonder if all absolute-seeming statements of worth are essentially wrong. An article like the linked one might be a useful tool to move people past this difficult period so that they can begin to engage the ideas of the world, and other people, in a slightly more productive way.

So, while the linked article may not be right in an absolute sense, it might be a useful argument for some.
posted by amtho at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2015


It's a stupid argument because of bits like this:
When we use the phrase, what we seem to be trying to say is that there should be a lot of room for intelligent disagreement around aesthetics – and that we don’t feel comfortable about asserting the superiority of any one style or approach over any other. It implies an acute sensitivity to conflict and a fear of being rude or mean to others. However, by resorting to the phrase, what we actually do is unleash a stranger and more reckless situation: what we’re in effect stating is that nothing is ever really more beautiful – or uglier – than anything else.
First, the author(s?*) argues that there is room for disagreement, a continuum of opinion. That's obvious to anyone who has ever spoken to more than a single person.

The problem is in the second part of that paragraph: "...in effect stating that nothing is ever really more beautiful ... than anything else." That doesn't follow from the first. The author is forcing the choice to one extreme or the other, ignoring any possibilities between those extremes. It is, in fact a common failure to go from a range of opinions to an either/or Manichean duality. It's a relative of the slippery slope argument called excluding the middle, and all too common trick.

There are lots of other possibilities that the author's forced choice: humans frequently have consensus opinions about aesthetics, and there may well be more than one consensus even within a single culture. Indeed, this is, in my view, what defines many sub-cultures: punk vs glam; disco vs rock; modernism vs. romanticism; sci fi vs mystery novels, and so on for as long as people aren't mind-controlled drones of an emergent predatory AI.

So, in effect, the author(s) ask us to ignore that fact that consensus aesthetics exist in place of some theoretical absolute. It's just a cheap trick.

*Who actually wrote this anyway? It seems deliberately obscured, mostly likely, IMO. to give a sense of god-like authority. Who are they, the wizard of OZ?
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never read Mein Kampf, but I imagine there's a chunk of it that reads exactly like this.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:10 AM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


bfootdav: "It is not at all clear to me that I think the hypothesis is ugly. I think it's wrong. The distinction is important."

You are differentiating between something being ugly vs something being wrong. And you say that distinction is important.

Further again you say

bfootdav: "is one of philosophy not an aesthetic reaction to a work of art."

Again, you compare "philosophical reaction" against "aesthetic reaction".

You treat the "beautiful/ugly" artistic evaluation as separate from "right/wrong" logical evaluation.

In the way the article is framed, the author doesn't differentiate between an artistic evaluation and a logical evaluation of something. In fact, a major point of the article is that there is a logical basis for any artistic evaluation and that saying "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" destroys/negates the logical basis. The author is asking us to evaluate the artistic properties (beautiful/ugly) of an object in logical ways (using arguments) to arrive at common conclusion about whether something is beautiful or not .. basically, the author's point seems to be that truth is beauty and beauty is truth.

I guess you are defining beauty in a narrower sense than the author is. Your evaluation of beauty of a hypothesis is independent of logical evaluation of the hypothesis. And that's why you find the hypothesis "wrong" but maybe not ugly and thus feel free to advance logical arguments about its wrongness.

You don't accept the starting point of author where he believes that logical arguments of why we find something beautiful are possible and useful.

But this doesn't work with your part about "there are objective qualities to works like structure and form" and that they "...would fall under aesthetic considerations" which you "didn't discuss" .... here you say that aesthetic considerations can be defined in objective (i.e. logical) parameters which goes against your earlier statement of the beauty of a hypothesis being distinct from its logic.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 10:13 AM on July 30, 2015


As a physicist, I can definitely say that the logically correct equation is often a hell of a lot uglier than the wrong but simple one.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:25 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sounds like it's actually about ethics in art journalism.

Someone should do objective art reviews for the author.

This is a color painting that depicts a woman with a facial expression that many would consider a smile. The painting is from the 1500s. There is a background, which some assert demonstrates perspective.

I get where the writer is coming from, but they're trying to make arguments that aesthetics are objective, when they plainly aren't. The thing is that personal taste is subjective, but there's shared but not universal aspects of it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:26 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]




If beauty simply lay in the eye of beholders, then it would presumably be sane to stand up and assert that a rubbish dump smelling of urine and decomposing fecal matter was a lovely place:

And that these modern canal side houses in Amsterdam were hideous:

And it might then be logical to suggest that it would be OK to pull down the houses and replace them with a rubbish dump.

But of course, no one would want that – which shows that, in reality, we don’t actually believe that beauty does lie entirely in the eye of beholders.


This is so mind-bogglingly illogical. There's no reason why "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" has to mean "everyone alive must believe that all things are equally beautiful", it just means "for any given thing, there's the possibility that someone might find it beautiful."
posted by 23skidoo at 10:28 AM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


TheLittlePrince: You are differentiating between something being ugly vs something being wrong. And you say that distinction is important.

Yes, the distinction is important, at least relative to this conversation. I did not say, nor do I believe I implied, that the essay was ugly. I do believe I made it clear that I think it's wrong.

You treat the "beautiful/ugly" artistic evaluation as separate from "right/wrong" logical evaluation.

Yes.

In the way the article is framed, the author doesn't differentiate between an artistic evaluation and a logical evaluation of something. In fact, a major point of the article is that there is a logical basis for any artistic evaluation and that saying "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" destroys/negates the logical basis. The author is asking us to evaluate the artistic properties (beautiful/ugly) of an object in logical ways (using arguments) to arrive at common conclusion about whether something is beautiful or not .. basically, the author's point seems to be that truth is beauty and beauty is truth.

I agree that the author is doing this. But I also do not believe that the author provided a rigorous or compelling defence of their position. Which considering that this appears to be the point of the essay is a telling omission.

I guess you are defining beauty in a narrower sense than the author is. Your evaluation of beauty of a hypothesis is independent of logical evaluation of the hypothesis. And that's why you find the hypothesis "wrong" but maybe not ugly and thus feel free to advance logical arguments about its wrongness.

Yep.

You don't accept the starting point of author where he believes that logical arguments of why we find something beautiful are possible and useful.

Eh, that's not quite how I would state it. We can talk logically about why we find something beautiful without committing to a theory that states that beauty is a Platonic Thingie that inheres the object under consideration. There are all sorts of physiological responses we might have to a work which might go some of the way toward explaining part of the causal process which determines our preferences.

But this doesn't work with your part about "there are objective qualities to works like structure and form" and that they "...would fall under aesthetic considerations" which you "didn't discuss" .... here you say that aesthetic considerations can be defined in objective (i.e. logical) parameters which goes against your earlier statement of the beauty of a hypothesis being distinct from its logic.

Nah. We can identify, in a meaningful sense, I believe, objective qualities of a work of art. It's just that "beauty" and "ugliness" are not examples of these qualities. A piece of music might have twelve notes with the first being an A-440. That is an "objective" quality of that piece of music. Saying the movement from that A to a lower-pitched D is objectively beautiful is the problem.

But we can use these observations of the objective qualities of the work to explain our preferences. Like someone might prefer music that has the aforementioned movement whilst someone else might not like that movement and instead prefer an even distribution of pitches. I think we can usefully think of this as an aesthetic discussion without being contradictory. We can discuss our relative opinions with references to the appropriate objective qualities of the work (its elements, structure, form, etc) while still being skeptical of the initial hypothesis that beauty is a quality that inheres objects.
posted by bfootdav at 10:33 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


The important thing is to recognize that standards of beauty are inseparable from the political and social norms of the day, norms which often feel invisible as constructions when they are part of the dominant.
To say that beauty is objective is to deny that people who are disempowered and disenfranchised are devalued, for their physical norms, for their music, for their art, for their culture. It is to say that the social norms that are at the moment in power are transcendent and objectively better than the expressions of other groups and cultures.
Because beauty often *feels* natural and god given to the beholder, it's really crucial to remember, intellectually and ethically, that it totally wrapped up in the social.
That's "the beholder," not just individual taste. And so this article is very, very limited and ethnocentric.
posted by flourpot at 10:34 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


moar like alain de bottom ZING

"If you really completely believed that "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" you would just say that I believe this hypothesis is ugly and leave the conversation at that point."

Just because you recognize the inherent subjectivity of aesthetic judgment doesn't mean you're a moron incapable of responding to a moronic counterargument.

"In fact, a major point of the article is that there is a logical basis for any artistic evaluation and that saying "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder" destroys/negates the logical basis."

Yer in over your head, chief. "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder" doesn't negate a logical/rational argument within the realm of aesthetics. It does, however, render it moot and grounded in the subjective. This was one of those philosophical consequences of the Enlightenment and liberalism (see Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration) — the same arguments of religious faith apply to aesthetic judgment.

"The author is asking us to evaluate the artistic properties (beautiful/ugly) of an object in logical ways (using arguments) to arrive at common conclusion about whether something is beautiful or not .. basically, the author's point seems to be that truth is beauty and beauty is truth. "

Too fucking bad then.

By way of anecdote: The LaRouchites camped outside the biggest classroom building at the college I went to; a good 80 percent of classes were in the building. The basic scheme was to recruit people through a cod Objectivist notion of objective truths and truth equalling beauty. This simple political program would nominally protect the adherents from the Bu$h/itler and give us all maglev trains. The best game to play with them? There is no truth that is not a subjective abstraction from reality. This eliminates their general go-to, the notion that mathematical truths are absolute — that 1+1=2. But that's an abstraction. There's no such thing as a discreet inch — all measurements have a margin of error in them. In fact, a lot of basic science is specifically related to minimizing that measurement error, but it's impossible to eliminate. We agree, for sake of argument, that an inch is an inch, and for almost everything that's good enough.

But it's not the same thing as an objective measurement — fundamentally, there's always the possibility to refine a measurement further. Xeno's a fraud, but he raised some good points. And don't even get me started on Hume (because I still like induction even though I can't prove it).

"But this doesn't work with your part about "there are objective qualities to works like structure and form" and that they "...would fall under aesthetic considerations" which you "didn't discuss" .... here you say that aesthetic considerations can be defined in objective (i.e. logical) parameters which goes against your earlier statement of the beauty of a hypothesis being distinct from its logic."

Structure and form can be objective, but aren't necessarily so. I can describe the structure of a table as a plane supported by four columns, which is objective and different from saying it's a modernist table (even if it is a modernist table). But you're mistaking the valid notion that aesthetic forms can be informed by objective criteria with the idea that they must be entirely divorced. Your sentence: Read Joshua Reynolds until you no longer think that a painting of a horse might be more fun to ride than a real one.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 AM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I was working as a critic, I used to tell people my opinions were objectively correct because they weighed more.
posted by klangklangston at 10:36 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I actually got into a heated argument with a friend/coworker about what constitutes "good" music (which expanded to encompass all artistic expressions). I mean, I cannot stand Dave Matthews Band, I find his/their songs irritating, and will lunge for the dial/remote/next button whenever one of those songs come on. However, I give little thought to why the band enjoys a following or radio play. I can't stand them, other people love them. It just is.

Sure, as a general guideline, many western trained ears find certain chord progressions pleasing (e.g. pachabels canon), and physical beauty can many times be linked to symmetry, but by no means is there a hard and fast "law of beauty" as such.

Someone once told me that art and especially music is a "vehicle for the soul." Art is to a large degree subjective, as it depends on where you want to go, and how you want to get there. (Just try road raging behind the wheel while listening to some laid back classical music).
posted by Debaser626 at 10:46 AM on July 30, 2015


Also:

We wouldn’t ever say ...‘the best way to raise children is in the eyes of beholders,’...

We don't say that because it's too polite, and likely to be misunderstood, so we say things like "Don't tell me how to raise my child", which pretty much means the same thing.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:55 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


The LaRouchites camped outside the biggest classroom building at the college I went to; a good 80 percent of classes were in the building.

I want to believe you are also a Wayne State alum because I don't want to believe in a world where this is more common.
posted by palindromic at 10:58 AM on July 30, 2015


Because to me, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a statement about my worth and the fact that I am not an unlovable, garbage person just because I don't totally fit into certain mainstream ideas about femininity.

Oh, thank god someone else said it, because I am coming in here hot off the EL thread and wanted to say exactly that, except with a LOT more profanity.
posted by corb at 11:16 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am totally for tearing down the canal houses. Though instead of garbage, give me something in brick, maybe plastered or painted in bright colours. If I'm required to take garbage as an alternative, may I request a piece of rebar be left jutting from the foundation of those abominations so I can tie a house boat up to it. Thanks.
posted by ethansr at 11:26 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, I cannot stand Dave Matthews Band, I find his/their songs irritating, and will lunge for the dial/remote/next button whenever one of those songs come on. However, I give little thought to why the band enjoys a following or radio play. I can't stand them, other people love them. It just is.

It's almost like there were multiple poles of opinion, of which one was free to partake and even shift from one to another as one changed and grew! Just as if there weren't any simple duality of good/bad and authentic/sellout. Like if people formed opinions in a matrix of personal experience, historical and peer influences and base human biological factors, where none was predominant! Imagine that.
posted by bonehead at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2015


Whenever I ask "what shoe is best?" I wish people wouldn't say "that depends on your feet". When people say it depends on your feet, they're saying it's subjective, and thus unimportant. But it's not subjective! It would be absurd to say that a size 17* steel-toed work boot is the best shoe! But everyone can wear flip flops. If both answers were valid then it would make sense to discontinue all flip-flops and only make size 17* steel-toed work boots! Saying "it depends on your feet" is just a lazy way to avoid unpleasant but necessary debate about this important topic!


* European size 51
posted by aubilenon at 11:32 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hah, I can't wear flip flops. My feet haaaaaaaaaaate them. "What, seriously, you think two toes are gonna keep a shoe on all by themselves? Pfft."

Anyhoo...I don't know on "beauty," but I've definitely learned in a service job that how well you do your job is always, always in the eye of the beholder. If someone deems that you were "snippy" at them, or that you sound "angry" or whatever, you're guilty of such even if that wasn't your intention, even if you were just following the rules, even if you were trying to talk sweet as syrup, what have you. So there's one area of life where we don't just say "hey, to each their own preference," apparently.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:43 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


bfootdav: "We can talk logically about why we find something beautiful"

As far as I understood the article, that's the point. That the moment you say "beauty is in the eyes of beholder" you are ending any further logical talk about why you find it beautiful. ("It’s a phrase with the power to silence. Once it’s been uttered, trying to keep up a dialogue about the merits or drawbacks of certain visual things can come across as shrill, anti-social or just plain rude.")

The part about "committing to a theory that states that beauty is a Platonic Thingie " is unnecessary addition. I think that the stance you are taking is "ok, if beauty is not in the eyes of beholder, tell me what it is and where it is otherwise I assume you are saying that beauty is a platonic thingy". you are looking for a theory to answer to this question and that is not presented in the article which you interpret as "a telling omission." I guess answering the question of what beauty is would need a much deeper philosophical discussion than an article can provide.

The article is not answering the question of "what/where is beauty if not in the eyes of beholder". Its just saying that beauty has a bigger/more logical basis than the "eyes of a beholder": that beauty is something that WE can talk about and explain what makes it beautiful, that there is enough commonality in humans that there is common basis for evaluating questions of beauty ("We have background aesthetic principles"), that there is a beauty principle that applies to all of us.

When you take the stance of beauty IS in the eyes of beholder and that there are no common aesthetic principles that we can use in analysing and comparing our understanding of beauty, you are taking a very shallow position.

To me it seems similar to "god did it" level of analysis. I dont know how this works, so I end the conversation with "God did it". I dont know why I find it beautiful, so I end the conversation with "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder".
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:48 AM on July 30, 2015


Sheperd: Talking about objectivity, Beholder Mage is one of the most objectively overpowered prestige classes ever made. In 10 levels, you can get 9th level spells(like wish and time stop, whereas the guy next to you is casting fabricate). So something like the ur-priest. It's used in a lot of theoretical optimization builds to get 9th level arcane and clerical casting (along with the ur-priest)... Any sane DM would ban it from the game, not least for the antimagic eye requirement. One of the worse ideas in 3.0, I think.
posted by curuinor at 11:59 AM on July 30, 2015


I'll repeat my favourite tweet ever, by @ms_fry: "there isn't a single tweet by Alain de Botton to which the most appropriate response isn't 'u ok hun?'"

This applies here.
posted by howfar at 12:21 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure logic is the best language to use when discussing beauty. That's probably the last thing I have to add to this discussion.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:24 PM on July 30, 2015


BRB - I'm going to go paint a really beautiful letter i on a hive.
posted by zamboni at 12:32 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


klangklangston: " "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder" doesn't negate a logical/rational argument within the realm of aesthetics. It does, however, render it moot and grounded in the subjective."

What you are saying is that the aphorism renders "a logical/rational argument about beauty" moot and grounded in subjective ... which is just saying that "a logical/rational argument about beauty" is basically subjective which is restating your position, not explaining or refining it.

Its funny you use Locke's Letter concerning tolerance, because seems to me that this part about

" but it is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties. This civil power alone has a right to do; to the other, goodwill is authority enough. Every man has commission to admonish, exhort, convince another of error, and, by reasoning, to draw him into truth; but to give laws, receive obedience, and compel with the sword, belongs to none but the magistrate."

basically says that reasoning is vital ... Locke's point is that force should not be used, that differences are to be accepted and tolerated, not that reason cannot be used, or that logical arguments are subjective. In fact, Locke seems to say that there is a truth to be discovered & to be convinced of by everyone which is another kettle of fish altogether.

And that part about LaRouchites, I don't see its relevance to the discussion as no-one is arguing that there is an absolute standard of beauty, no one is saying that an inch is the ultimate standard but the point is that saying "measurement lies in the hands of the measurer" is bullshit. We do agree on certain common standards for measurement and thats good enough. Similarly, we can agree on certain common standards for beauty and those common standards are not created unless we take the conversation past "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder".
posted by TheLittlePrince at 12:37 PM on July 30, 2015


To me it seems similar to "god did it" level of analysis. I dont know how this works, so I end the conversation with "God did it". I dont know why I find it beautiful, so I end the conversation with "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder".

Wow, to me it's the exact opposite. To me, "God did it" sounds just like "Common aesthetic principles did it", and "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" sounds like "Don't assume that there's a set of common aesthetic principles when there's tons of evidence showing that what one group of people finds beautiful is routinely viewed as not beautiful by different groups of people".
posted by 23skidoo at 12:40 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are many of us for whom this is a practical problem, as opposed to a philosophical one. I'm an architect. Beauty is an untouchable professional subject, though we apply our personal standards ALL the time. Very few people who look at and occupy buildings refrain from aesthetic judgement. So architects are accountable for their ability to produce beautiful things, but we can't actually talk about what is and is not beautiful.
There are three camps, as far as I can tell. The first surrenders to the subjective encomium and simply doesn't think about beauty as a goal. The second camp picks a style and commits to it fully. The Neo-Classicists are examples. The third camp considers beauty to be paramount, inheres in the thing and refuses to discuss it. Most of the architects I know are in the third camp.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 12:52 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Similarly, we can agree on certain common standards for beauty and those common standards are not created unless we take the conversation past "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder".

But the fact that we can agree them does not, necessarily, make that statement untrue. That's the problem with the logic of the piece. "Aesthetic realism/intersubjectivity is good" does not imply "aesthetic relativism is wrong".
posted by howfar at 12:58 PM on July 30, 2015


Goodness is an objective reality that is subjectively experienced. We create beauty as we experience it.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:07 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would imagine that a horribly impoverished child who made a living scavenging trash would find more beauty in that dump than they would in those canal houses. The former being a bonanza of accessible riches, and the latter an unobtainable reminder of the distance between themselves and the occupants. There is an inextricable moral and personal component to beauty.

Even if we were to limit ourselves to discussing a sort of disconnected theory of good design aesthetics, there will always be those who appreciate a well designed landfill over row-houses whose architecture meets the approval of the author. The piece decries a "neutral stance on aesthetics," but seems to think we should replace a recognition of personal taste with a bias towards the tastes of 2nd year architecture students.

Deep down in this piece is a reasonable criticism against sacrificing any notion of aesthetically pleasing design in the pursuit of a quick buck, but damn does the author spend no small amount time dumping on people who don't share their refined palate on architecture, music, and food. Yes, some people do not want to have extended conversations about the merits and demerits of exterior duct work, it doesn't make them bad people.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:31 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not to mention, like, Oscar the Grouch. Did this person never watch Sesame Street?
posted by XMLicious at 3:23 PM on July 30, 2015


Is as does.
posted by 0rison at 3:54 PM on July 30, 2015


Where do the Brutalists fit in Carmody'sPrize?
posted by Carillon at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2015


(Sorry realized that could be perceived as snark, not trolling, actually curious where you'd think they fall)
posted by Carillon at 4:56 PM on July 30, 2015


the point is that saying "measurement lies in the hands of the measurer" is bullshit. We do agree on certain common standards for measurement and thats good enough.

So tell me: just how long is the coastline of Britain?
posted by flabdablet at 7:05 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


As long as the length which we are able to agree on together and is good enough for our requirements.

to give a slightly convoluted example, just because we haven't been able to develop a quantum theory of gravity doesn't mean that Newtonian theory of gravity has the same validity as some one claiming god causes apples to fall to earth.

And that essentially what some people mean when they say that since we don't have universal principals of beauty (a platonic ideal of beauty, for example) that everyone can agree to, we should just accept that "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder".

We will keep developing new principles for discussing and interpreting beauty but none of those discussions will happen until we believe or accept the aphorism that beauty lies in the eyes of beholder.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:12 PM on July 30, 2015


But you acknowledge that units are on some level arbitrary, that the laws of nature prefer neither the meter nor the foot. And although we can all agree on the ordering of lengths regardless of the units, that's primarily a consequence of lengths being one-dimensional quantities. If we move into just two dimensions things are not so clear: is (1.0,0.0) bigger or smaller than (0.71, 0.71)? It depends on what norm or distance metric you pick. And if you mix units things get even trickier: how do you compare (1m, 10s) vs (10m, 1s)? If beauty exists as an objective thing, it seems likely that it is not a simple scalar quantity like length, but a high-dimensional vector of heterogenous values, in which case all you have done is defer the critical question, namely, how to rank beauty, into the equally subjective question of picking a norm.
posted by Pyry at 9:41 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Finding something beautiful or ugly really is more of a reflection of my own mood or feelings about something. There was this really pretty building I saw that quickly looked ugly when I realized the company that had offices there.

This is not unlike how if you see someone really stunning or gorgeous, and then they are rude, racist, constantly pessimistic, self centered or whatever turns you off, they just get ugly. Or if someone who you thought was weird looking at first and they have a big open heart, and they're warm and lovely, they turn beautiful.

henever I ask "what shoe is best?" I wish people wouldn't say "that depends on your feet". When people say it depends on your feet, they're saying it's subjective, and thus unimportant.


I have a huge bunion on my foot that aches. My feet are flat. Shoes some people find comfortable, I don't. And things that are subjective aren't necessarily unimportant. It definitely depends on your feet.

someone deems that you were "snippy" at them, or that you sound "angry" or whatever, you're guilty of such even if that wasn't your intention, even if you were just following the rules, even if you were trying to talk sweet as syrup, what have you.

Or the junior high thing where someone calls a perfectly nice person a fake bitch. It always tends to give you a better idea of the person who is saying it than the person they're talking about.
posted by discopolo at 10:42 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


As long as the length which we are able to agree on together and is good enough for our requirements.

What if we have different requirements? For example, say you need to know in order to plan a circumnavigation by boat, and I need to know because I'm interested in how long it would take a hypothetical 1mm flatworm to get all the way around assuming a constant crawl rate?
posted by flabdablet at 12:21 AM on July 31, 2015


We do agree on certain common standards for measurement and thats good enough. Similarly, we can agree on certain common standards for beauty and those common standards are not created unless we take the conversation past "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder".

posted by TheLittlePrince at 12:37 PM on July 30


(and here i thought that it was only with the heart that one can see rightly)

If you were to say to the grown-ups: "I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof," they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: "I saw a house that cost $20,000." Then they would exclaim: "Oh, what a pretty house that is!"
posted by thetortoise at 1:48 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoof, what a steaming load. Seriously, this is the kind of tiring bullshit that college Fedoras and snobby goth kids pull out when they're trying to sound legitimate about going "And therefore, rap and country music are empirically the worst music and you're stupid for liking it."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:27 AM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


To be fair, rap and country music are empirically the worst music and you're stupid for liking it.
posted by flabdablet at 7:35 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


A says: I think this record/architecture/painting/sculpture/whatever is beautiful.
B responds: I dont find this beautiful. Why do you think this is beautiful? OR what do you find beautiful about this?

scenario 1--- A answers: Its hard to explain. Anyway, Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder.

The conversation stops with B having no clue why A finds that thing to be beautiful or what B might be missing.

Scenario 2 -- A answers: I like the way the curves flow./I like the way these colors merge.
B answers: Oh, I am not sure if I get whats so beautiful about the way these curves flow./ I dont agree with the fact that the way these colors are used is beautiful. I think these colors clash with each other.
A answers: The flow of these curves indicate continuation to infinity OR I like that the curves seem to be creating a meta pattern of a flower / though the colors clash with each other, this clash brings out the central concept of the work OR I don't think the colors clash with each other. the way they merge and transform into this intermediate color avoids that clash. I don't think I can explain it better than that.
B continues: Hmmmm, I can see that meta pattern of flower now OR No, I don't see the meta pattern but if I could see a flower, I can understand how it would be beautiful because both you and I find flowers beautiful. / I don't agree that the clash of colors is avoided by the use of the intermediate color. But perhaps we can continue the discussion some other time or I could talk to someone else who finds this beautiful.

Even with this poor script of a discussion, scenario 2 is already a lot more useful than scenario 1.

The use of aphorisms like "beauty lies ..." not only ends a conversation but also removes the responsibility to take a deeper dive into understanding what is beauty. It prevents people from understanding themselves better because hey if what I find beautiful cannot be explained, there is no point analyzing why I find it beautiful. Its the ultimate form of escapism.

And about everyone who thinks or assumes that the author/article is trying to create a scientific definition of beauty, I dont see that attempt anywhere. In fact, the article says "Yet because notions of beauty and ugliness lie outside the system of scientific proof .." ie it agrees that notions of beauty lie outside scientific proof. The article's argument is that we need to talk about beauty. Just because the certainties of scientific method are not useful for this conversation, it doesnt mean that we leave it to a relativistic argument that everyone has their own unexplainable /uncommunicable ways to identify beauty and lets leave it at that.

Pyry: "which case all you have done is defer the critical question, namely, how to rank beauty, into the equally subjective question of picking a norm."

I will use an example from science because, for me, its easiest to relate: I am sure using newtonian theory of gravity also just defers the question of why does the apple fall to the ground because it doesnt explain gravity completely but it works for my requirements.

Also, no one is forcing you to use entirely accepted objective terms to describe beauty. Use your own terms/ create your own description but for that as well you will have to move beyond a shallow relativistic argument of "different people find different things beautiful and there is no point/no way of explaining why".


thetortoise: "(and here i thought that it was only with the heart that one can see rightly)

If you were to say to the grown-ups: "I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof," they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: "I saw a house that cost $20,000." Then they would exclaim: "Oh, what a pretty house that is!"
"

All that Saint-Exupéry is criticizing here is that the grown ups use money to measure beauty which is not the right principle. In fact, if you look later in the book, the little prince actually tries to explain why he finds his rose more beatiful than others. He doesn't just say "well, I find my rose more beautiful because beauty lies in the eyes of beholder". He doesn't try to escape figuring out why one rose can be much more beautiful than others.

To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars
posted by TheLittlePrince at 7:41 AM on July 31, 2015


I know, I know, it's not a Fedora, it's a trilby.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


*tips fedora*

Thank you for knowing the difference.
posted by I-baLL at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2015


The use of aphorisms like "beauty lies ..." not only ends a conversation but also removes the responsibility to take a deeper dive into understanding what is beauty. It prevents people from understanding themselves better because hey if what I find beautiful cannot be explained, there is no point analyzing why I find it beautiful. Its the ultimate form of escapism.


That's not true at all.

The aphorism doesn't require an end to the conversation, that you made up a scenario in which that happens is fine, but it's not some universal law here. If anything it's acknowledging the others humanity and that their preferences have as much weight as yours. It's also not saying that beauty can't be explained, I'm not sure how you're getting that. Just because the beautiful is personal doesn't mean it can't be discussed. You seem to be saying that there must be an idea of beauty before we can begin to discuss that which is beautiful.
posted by Carillon at 12:06 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars

But this passage is also about how beauty can't be rendered in purely objective terms. To the passerby, the rose appears ordinary; to the little prince she is beautiful because of his experiences with her, their shared relationship, his perception of her. That's subjectivity. Which is all a phrase like "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is claiming: there's an inherently subjective element to beauty. I don't think there's any implication you shouldn't talk about it.
posted by thetortoise at 12:31 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


(oops! what Carillon said)
posted by thetortoise at 12:32 PM on July 31, 2015


"I want to believe you are also a Wayne State alum because I don't want to believe in a world where this is more common."

EMU! Go fightin' Dromaius!

"As far as I understood the article, that's the point. That the moment you say "beauty is in the eyes of beholder" you are ending any further logical talk about why you find it beautiful. "

Nope. That's an argument from idiocy. We can and do talk about why we find things beautiful even while recognizing that the reasoning may be different for different people. Emotion precedes reason with aesthetics.

" I guess answering the question of what beauty is would need a much deeper philosophical discussion than an article can provide."

Bzzt. Assumes objective definition for "beauty" exists.

"Its just saying that beauty has a bigger/more logical basis than the "eyes of a beholder": that beauty is something that WE can talk about and explain what makes it beautiful, that there is enough commonality in humans that there is common basis for evaluating questions of beauty ("We have background aesthetic principles"), that there is a beauty principle that applies to all of us. "

Sure, and that's bullshit. Contra trash pit: Beuys' trash collection.

"When you take the stance of beauty IS in the eyes of beholder and that there are no common aesthetic principles that we can use in analysing and comparing our understanding of beauty, you are taking a very shallow position. "

Break it down. You're positing two separate claims: First, "beauty in the eye of the beholder" i.e. no objective beauty standards. Second, "no common aesthetic principles," which is a bullshit construction on two levels: First, the ambiguity of "common." It's common to not like death metal; not liking death metal is not a property inherent to humanity (there are humans who do like it). Second, there are generally common principles upon which an aesthetic experience may be evaluated, e.g. for food, sweetness. However, the relative proportion of sweetness that is desirable is not a universal quality (hell, are qualia universal?) thus sweetness is in the tongue of the beholder.

"To me it seems similar to "god did it" level of analysis. I dont know how this works, so I end the conversation with "God did it". I dont know why I find it beautiful, so I end the conversation with "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder"."

Again, you're projecting an argument from idiocy. While "God did it" can be a conversation ender, it can also be answered with, "How did God do it?" or "Why did God do it?" Like the original FPP, you're mistaking the arguments actually entailed with straw man morons.

"What you are saying is that the aphorism renders "a logical/rational argument about beauty" moot and grounded in subjective ... which is just saying that "a logical/rational argument about beauty" is basically subjective which is restating your position, not explaining or refining it. "

Moot in the sense of endlessly debatable. If you'd like to argue that aesthetics are not endlessly debatable, you should provide some counter-evidence to EVERY DISCUSSION ON AESTHETICS IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANKIND. There is no external authority on aesthetics to whom an appeal may be addressed.

"basically says that reasoning is vital ... Locke's point is that force should not be used, that differences are to be accepted and tolerated, not that reason cannot be used, or that logical arguments are subjective. In fact, Locke seems to say that there is a truth to be discovered & to be convinced of by everyone which is another kettle of fish altogether."

Why shouldn't force be used? Because faith is a matter of conscience. Which is inherently personal, which is the subjective claim underlying liberalism. (If you really want to get into it, Locke's feints for underlying truth of *ahem* Christianity was in part because of the censorship he faced for being perceived as an atheist.)

"And that part about LaRouchites, I don't see its relevance to the discussion as no-one is arguing that there is an absolute standard of beauty, no one is saying that an inch is the ultimate standard but the point is that saying "measurement lies in the hands of the measurer" is bullshit. We do agree on certain common standards for measurement and thats good enough. Similarly, we can agree on certain common standards for beauty and those common standards are not created unless we take the conversation past "beauty lies in the eyes of beholder"."

The point is that there's no such objective thing as an inch, but rather than we agree to the abstracted use of an inch because it's convenient. This should be readily apparent when thinking about all of the countries that don't use inches yet manage to come to the same basic measurements. Not only that, but yes, measurements are relative to the observer. You don't have to be an Einstein to know that, but it's a big part of why we know of Einstein.

Those "common standards" of beauty are socially constructed and not objective. As another analogy, people at the poverty line in America are still at least arguably wealthy on a global scale because wealth is a relative attribute even as we may argue over what wealth entails. Likewise, that there are multiple quantifications for poverty or wealth should point out that these are not objective facts like how many pairs of pants you own. Wealth has more objective criteria than beauty, but the principle is the same.

As long as the length which we are able to agree on together and is good enough for our requirements.

to give a slightly convoluted example, just because we haven't been able to develop a quantum theory of gravity doesn't mean that Newtonian theory of gravity has the same validity as some one claiming god causes apples to fall to earth.
"

I hate to keep sitting on your head, but you're engaging in a bit of scientism in an inappropriate venue. First, you should be able to distinguish arguments of causes from arguments of means — God can be a cop-out answer, but more generally is just irrelevant. If God made the apple fall at 9.6 m/s2, the presence or absence of God is superfluous — if it were contradictory, it'd be hard to understand both Newton and Einstein believing in God. Second, the purpose of a quantum theory of gravity is to more accurately predict the effects of gravity, and we never know that a theory is entirely correct — just that it hasn't been falsified yet. You're conflating the (ahem) relatively objective truth of the measurements and observations of a system with the truth of the explicative narrative. Gravity or evolution is true so far as they allow us to predict the outcome of events, not because of some quantum truth particle that attaches to their theories.

"We will keep developing new principles for discussing and interpreting beauty but none of those discussions will happen until we believe or accept the aphorism that beauty lies in the eyes of beholder."

??? Isn't that the opposite of what you've been arguing? I'm going to think there's a negation missing there.

"Even with this poor script of a discussion, scenario 2 is already a lot more useful than scenario 1. "

My straw man can beat your straw man! Scenario 2 is a demonstration of the principle that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

"The use of aphorisms like "beauty lies ..." not only ends a conversation but also removes the responsibility to take a deeper dive into understanding what is beauty. It prevents people from understanding themselves better because hey if what I find beautiful cannot be explained, there is no point analyzing why I find it beautiful. Its the ultimate form of escapism."

Again, only if you're talking to idiots. If you're not talking to idiots, nothing precludes the conversation from proceeding. And it has nothing to do with the particular aphorism — if you respond to "Why do you like it?" with "I like it," you're not really answering the question.

"And about everyone who thinks or assumes that the author/article is trying to create a scientific definition of beauty, I dont see that attempt anywhere. In fact, the article says "Yet because notions of beauty and ugliness lie outside the system of scientific proof .." ie it agrees that notions of beauty lie outside scientific proof. The article's argument is that we need to talk about beauty. Just because the certainties of scientific method are not useful for this conversation, it doesnt mean that we leave it to a relativistic argument that everyone has their own unexplainable /uncommunicable ways to identify beauty and lets leave it at that."

It agrees that they lay outside the realm of scientific proof, then asserts that no one really believes in relativism, which is (right in the name!) that claims like "beauty" are only meaningful through their comparison to each other and that there's no outside metric for claims of beauty. That this house organ of an art school/movement/pretension doesn't understand the terms that they are using is bad enough — you don't have to carry their backpack of crap on the crowded subway of aesthetic criticism. Think about their claim, " However, by resorting to the phrase, what we actually do is unleash a stranger and more reckless situation: what we’re in effect stating is that nothing is ever really more beautiful – or uglier – than anything else." First off, the notion of relativism would imply that things are inherently compared against each other, so that's facially false. Second off, what it's saying is that there's nothing that's really OBJECTIVELY more beautiful or ugly than anything else — instead, beauty and ugliness rely on suasion and norms, many of which are inherently arbitrary and thus claims of beauty and ugliness should be interrogated.

I understand the point that you're trying to make, but blaming "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is like trying to bleed a fever out of a patient.
posted by klangklangston at 2:25 PM on July 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


The use of aphorisms like "beauty lies ..." not only ends a conversation but also removes the responsibility to take a deeper dive into understanding what is beauty. It prevents people from understanding themselves better because hey if what I find beautiful cannot be explained, there is no point analyzing why I find it beautiful. Its the ultimate form of escapism.


You don't know my life!
posted by discopolo at 2:43 PM on July 31, 2015


A says: I think this record/architecture/painting/sculpture/whatever is beautiful.
B responds: I dont find this beautiful. Why do you think this is beautiful? OR what do you find beautiful about this?

scenario 1--- A answers: Its hard to explain. Anyway, Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder.

The conversation stops with B having no clue why A finds that thing to be beautiful or what B might be missing.

Scenario 2 -- A answers: I like the way the curves flow./I like the way these colors merge.
B answers: Oh, I am not sure if I get whats so beautiful about the way these curves flow./ I dont agree with the fact that the way these colors are used is beautiful. I think these colors clash with each other.
A answers: The flow of these curves indicate continuation to infinity OR I like that the curves seem to be creating a meta pattern of a flower / though the colors clash with each other, this clash brings out the central concept of the work OR I don't think the colors clash with each other. the way they merge and transform into this intermediate color avoids that clash. I don't think I can explain it better than that.
B continues: Hmmmm, I can see that meta pattern of flower now OR No, I don't see the meta pattern but if I could see a flower, I can understand how it would be beautiful because both you and I find flowers beautiful. / I don't agree that the clash of colors is avoided by the use of the intermediate color. But perhaps we can continue the discussion some other time or I could talk to someone else who finds this beautiful.


Scenario 3: A answers “It’s hard to explain. Anyway, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

B replies: “Sure, but what is it that you like about the painting? I value your opinion and I’d like to understand it.”

A answers: “Oh, okay, I really thought you were one of those jerkwads who wants to tell me my taste is objectively wrong, so I was using “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to change the subject. But if you’d really like to know, I like the way the curves flow and the way the colors merge: they suggest a continuation to infinity when viewed up close, as well as a floral pattern when viewed from farther away. I like how the painting suggests something abstract (infinity) when viewed one way, but something completely organic (flowers) when viewed in a different way.

B replies: “Wow, I’d never thought of it like that before. Thanks for sharing your point of view with me.”

Scenario 4: A answers: “I like the way the colors flow, and I like the way the colors merge.

B replies: “I don't believe that flowing curves can be beautiful, and I disagree that the way these colors merge is beautiful. These colors clash with each other.”

A answers: “I’ll be blunt: you asked me for my opinion, and I explained it precisely and succinctly. I don’t know why you’re asking me why I think something is beautiful just to turn around and tell me that you disagree with me. If you want learn something about how I think, don’t shoot down my opinions just because you don’t agree with them.

B replies: “I guess I’m just not getting what you like about the painting.”

A answers: “Okay, I can elaborate. I like the way the curves flow and the way the colors merge: they suggest a continuation to infinity when viewed up close, as well as a floral pattern when viewed from farther away. I like how the painting suggests something abstract (infinity) when viewed one way, but something completely organic (flowers) when viewed in a different way.”

B replies: “I disagree that the colors suggest a continuation to infinity. I think you’re wrong that the colors suggest a floral pattern. I don't believe that this painting can be viewed two different ways. I don’t like flowers or infinity, so I can’t be empathetic and just accept that you find this beautiful because you like those things. I can only accept that this is beautiful to you if I can in some way make it about me.”

A answers: “Jesus, you’re insufferable. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

B replies: “Well, if you want to shut down this conversation…”

A answers: “You’re the one who shut down this conversation by not trying to understand a thing I had to say.”

B replies: “I disagree with that.”
posted by 23skidoo at 4:03 PM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


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