what is beauty?

archival print by W.Skog

Bodhi Leaf 16 x 20 in.
pigment ink on metal © W.Skog

when we recognize symmetry in a living organism we are likely to think it is beautiful.

Blog post by W. Skog

They say there's life on Saturn's moon. What would that look like? Would life there follow the familiar structures observed on earth. No, I don't mean that there are cows, and chickens and bumblebees and of course not humans in designer gear. But do the basic patterns of life there follow the biological mathematics we are profoundly familiar with, if only on subconscious levels. Consider a butterfly with intricately designed wings. Each wing is a mirror image of the other. That's nature's way of programming life:


dynamic symmetry

Beauty is the main subject of aesthetics, one of the major branches of philosophy. It is usually described as a perceptual quality that is pleasing to the eye. This would include landscapes, sunsets, human physiology, and works of art. Andy Warhol directed 2 avant-garde films decicated to the concept of beauty.

"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it."

Back in 2013, Andy Warhol, a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art, inaugurated an exhibition of works entitled “Life, Death and Beauty”, held at the Heydar Aliyev center in Azerbaijan, showcasing the artist's connection to spirituality and religion, which brought about an aesthetic oscillating around life, death and beauty. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became a renowned and sometimes controversial artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in his native city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds an extensive permanent collection of art and archives. It is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist.

Marilyn Monroe

Screen print of Marilyn Monroe
by Andy Warhol

Conceptions of beauty aim to capture what is essential to all beautiful things


Classical conceptions define beauty in terms of the relation between the beautiful object as a whole and its parts: the parts should stand in the right proportion to each other and thus compose an integrated harmonious whole.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley
the King of Rock and Roll

One of the most beautiful faces ever.

Hidden in the heart of the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, and cosmology lies one concept: symmetry. Symmetry informs reality right down to the basic composition of matter. Symmetry has been studied for 3000 years and has been a key concept for artists, architects, and musicians for centuries. It has also been nature's blueprint for our universe right down to Elvis's perfectly symmetrical face.

The two Definitions of Beauty

There are both subjective beauty and objective beauty. Often they overlap but not always. Subjective beauty is "beauty in the eye of the beholder" and is shaped by personal experience. It is what I would call "personal taste" and is based on personal value judgments.

human eye
Da Vinci drawing

Da Vinci's drawing 'the Vitruvian Man
the measure of all things

Then there is objective beauty which has been considered almost synonymous with truth as held by the ancient Greeks. Keats wrote "beauty is truth, truth beauty". Kant thought that beauty is regarded as an example of a universal rule that one cannot state. But biology and mathematics have long been able to physically identify natural proportions that occur everywhere in nature. This is absolute beauty.

dna strand

The natural laws of beauty are always at play from the most microscopic to the cosmic. Our universe is an ordered space. I think that if an artist is in tune with the universal harmonics expressed in and experienced by all living things something turns up on the canvas that moves people from observation to perception of a deeply satisfying order. Great art achieves this always.

Symmetry and natural proportions are components of visual beauty in art.
Beauty is rare
beauty is everywhere
beauty is hidden in plain sight
Beauty is human
beauty is cosmic
beauty is mother nature's masterpiece

See more blog posts by Canadian artist Wendy Skog.

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