Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?


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The famous quote (most probably by Margaret Wolfe) which says: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is assumed to be true by many. But for sociologists, this quote may be partly true and partly false.

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In the commercial world of art, for instance, beauty does not depend in the eyes of ordinary people or viewers but in the eyes of the art critics and patrons who determine what is beautiful and what is not, what is priceless or cheap in the world of museums, auctions, and art exhibits.


It’s true that art can be subjective. It depends on the beholder or the person who sees and evaluates a piece of art. And since each person has his/her own culture and notions of beauty which s/he learns from his/her own society, judgments on what is beautiful or not vary across various nations and nationalities.

But commercial art has its own subculture and notion of beauty where art critics and patrons reign supreme! These gatekeepers determine the standards of beauty and the price of art in the world of auction sales.


Beauty as a Relative Concept


The concept of beauty is relative in the social sciences, especially in cultural anthropology. For anthropologists, understanding what is beautiful or ugly is cultural. It depends on how a particular culture views beauty as a cultural category. What is beautiful in one country or society may be ugly for others. For instance, what is beautiful for the Ilongot tribe of a handsome and sexy man is one who has a long earring in his ears. The longer the earring, the more handsome or beautiful is the young Ilongot in this tribe. Each layer of the earring represents the number of people he beheaded or killed. The Ingot tribe practiced headhunting as part of their culture. When a member of their tribe died, the first thing the male Ingots would do is to behead people from other tribe.


In urban societies, what actually creates or dictates to the public the type of beauty people must see and appreciate are primarily the print, broadcast, and social media. Advertising and marketing industries play an important role in shaping people’s mind on what is beautiful and what is not.


In this case, it is often the white,  slim, extraordinary,  young, sexy, and other urban traits are projected as beautiful, and the black, the fat,  old, ordinary, and other “unmarketable” or  rural traits as ugly and undesirable.


It’s about time to remember Wolfe’s famous quote: “Beauty is the eye of the beholder!” It is cultural and it depends on one’s cultural orientation and not by one that is dictated by the media and marketing industries!

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