Beauty is (not) in the eye of the beholder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what if the beholders have come to a consensus?

‘The cruelty of selection is what makes beauty, beauty.’/ ‘Beauty is beauty due to the cruelty of selection.’

– Masami Tsuda, Kare Kano

In practice it hardly matters whether the standard of beauty is objective or subjective so long as there is a consensus. And there is  always a subjective consensus, the problem is that you can’t get rid of consensus you can only alter it. It is subjective but only in a collective sense, and precisely because the standard of beauty is subjective the only point of reference that matters is consensus. This is true for beauty in art and also for beauty in physical appearance.

In the former case one only needs to look at what works are considered to be great works of art and in the end whatever measure is used to judge art, to select, amounts to subjective consensus, there is nothing objective about evaluating art but this does not mean that the artistic consensus does not matter, in effect it is the thing that matters the most, after all there  is hardly anything more important in human life than it after the basic needs have been fulfilled.

In the latter case this is even more true because while it is quite easy to ignore all aesthetic judgement directed towards art for most people it is much harder to ignore the aesthetic judgements directed towards them, and their physical appearance.

The question which arises then is, ‘Should we strive towards no aesthetic judgement? Is the ethical thing to do to abolish beauty?’ Which is a meaningless question because the consensus on beauty cannot be abolished and is by definition primed to be selective, if everything is beautiful then nothing is, even those who seek to adopt(i.e. promote) a standard of beauty diametrically opposed to the present one are not abolishing the consensus only trying to gerrymander it because they would benefit socially from an altered consensus. For example when fat models assert that they are beautiful (which is the equivalent of claiming that Peter Pan is as good if not better than King Lear) they are in effect expecting that the consensus will be changed in their favour, that other people will think that they are beautiful. After all if beauty is subjective all that matters is the consensus of beauty and if beauty were objective all that would matter would be the consensus anyway. Similarly those artists creating abstract art are just trying to change the subjective consensus to adopt their standards to something that benefits them. A deconstruction is after-all nothing more than a non-superimposable mirror image, a parody which attempts to displace what it parodies.

Note: I have done my best not to discuss whether there is an objective standard for beauty that can be derived from evolutionary psychology or from some other means because frankly such a topic is beyond the scope my knowledge and I would only end up making a fool of myself if I already haven’t. Let me know in the comment section.

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