The debate about beauty and its real meaning still rages. How to measure it, where it appears, the power behind it, its construction process, among other parameters, continues to be a puzzle.
As a result, people have set out to unravel the truth behind this enigma. Among them are Danto and Tolstoy. While Tolstoy declares beauty a complete fiction, Danto views it as a catalyst that modifies sorrow into happiness. Where does beauty lie?
The works of art serve as tools able to untangle the mystery behind the location of beauty. Some claim that art has the ability to reveal this puzzle but Danto sets to “…meditate on the relative scarcity of beauty in recent art” (281). This speculation is sufficient to tell that beauty bears no place in artworks, as it is misconceived. Tolstoy also comes in handy here noting that, beauty is not always a coincidence of what is good.
This, to some extend, pictures it as being beyond what people see from art works. He says, “Beauty is the basis of all our predilections” (Tolstoy 13).
In his quest to find out the reality of beauty, Tolstoy claims that beauty is the tool that judges art and since “art is the most important agent of social change, necessarily transmitting earnest and infectious emotional feeling” (Tolstoy 24), it stands out that beauty lies in emotions, rather than forms.
Concurring with this judgment, Danto observes beauty as, “…transforming raw grief into tranquil sadness…marking the loss of a loved one” (Danto 364). These expositions attest that beauty, just as love, appears in emotions, but not in forms.
Beauty is not a quality of the work of art, but a social construct. This stands out in Danto’s observations. In fact, he declares beauty as part of art works only on condition. “Beauty is internal to a work when it is…for such a work, beauty is part of the work’s content” (366).
This occurs on rare occasions and that is why Danto gives the reason as to why beauty is inappropriate in contemporary artworks. To show how beauty is socially constructed, Tolstoy posits, “…is the same important observation: beauty, long considered the highest standard for judging art, is not based in anything natural, but rather emerges purely as a product of the social” (22).
It is far from the quality of art works. Danto adds, “Our societal aversion to beauty…but beauty threatens to conceal them” (362). He shows that beauty is a creation of the society when he “…reminds us that what is presented beautifully is an inherent part of human experience” (359) and hence socially constructed.
Attached to beauty is the healing influence especially when one is struck by a personal loss. This reveals some secret power in beauty that ensures the healing. Tolstoy says, “…it’s all in the mind” (16) revealing the sense in the saying that ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’
It is driven by the mind as the power. Beauty is captivating. The reason behind the captivation lies not in the truths brought by the works of art, which are subject to being overlooked, but in the interpretations of the mind. In fact, Tolstoy says, “the beautiful is nothing other than what is pleasing to us” (20).
Whatever pleases the eye depends on the mind and since every mind is unique, the interpretations are varied and hence the reason behind its ability to captivate people. Worth noting is that, beauty and truth never coincide as Tolstoy says, (19) and thus beauty, as misconceived, is not a means of escaping the truth.
Danto, Athur. On Late Style: The Abuse of Beauty. Durham: Oxford University, 2010.
Tolstoy, Leo. Good, Truth, and Truth in Art. London: Word Press, 2010.