Perspective: Beauty

Collective-Invention-1934-Oil-on-canvas The Collective Invention, Rene Magritte, 1934.

Do you believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Or do you think there is a basic standard of beauty that everyone agrees upon?

On this subject, I sit squarely on the fence.

I discussed perceptions of appearance last month in Daily Post: Mirror Mirror – in that post I referred to a BBC documentary presented by John Cleese called The Human Face  – if you are interested in perceptions of beauty/appearance, this is well worth watching, so I’ve put a link to Part 3, which deals with beauty, at the bottom of this post

Magritte’s painting a reversal of the universally accepted idea of a mermaid, half woman, half fish, generally accepted in our minds as having a top half shaped like a beautiful woman with the scaly bit at the bottom.  He delighted in making the familiar unfamiliar.  Even though this image is outside the common agreement of what is beautiful, the painting is done beautifully. But is it a beautiful painting? I think so.

The documentary opens with a statement that babies are automatically drawn to a beautiful face, e.g. they are young enough not to be influenced by cultural ideals.  Later on a debate between Nixon and JFK is discussed – it seems that people who watched it on television favoured Kennedy to win the debate, while those who listened on the radio favoured Nixon.  Imagine what the 1960’s would have been like if television hadn’t been invented.


DaVinci’s The Vitruvian Man by Luc Viatour /

As for a basic standard of beauty, I don’t have to think there might be one, I know there is.  People who study art or philosophy will be familiar with symmetry and 1:1.618  – The Golden Ratio, illustrated by DaVinci in The Vitruvian Man. Studies have shown that this ratio applies to perceptions of beauty, regardless of ethnic differences.

What science has not really measured very well  is how a familiar face, which might not meet the commonly accepted ideal, becomes beautiful to the one who loves them. Or how a pug owner (no offence) might think their dog is the Adonis of dogs. Or how I think The Diva is totally gorgeous, even when she’s just  come in out of the rain, having stuck her face into a pot of wet compost.

2012-09-02 15.14.46 - CopyDSC_0480





John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley, making Physiognomy‎ interesting

NaBloPoMo February 2014Roundup


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