Keynote – Beauty

Beauty is an abstract concept

It is easy to point to something beautiful but impossible to say what it consists of. Artists are weary of the concept of beauty because it alludes to superficiality and kitsch. Beauty in art is often used to create a tension with the concept behind the work.


Image result for ai wei wei straight royal academy
Ai Weiwei, Straight


Damien Hirst, Beautiful, Leeds United 3-0, Jeff Koons, large vase of flowers

Beauty = seduction

Beauty = cover for political manipulation


Image result for igor babailov george bush 2002
Igor Babailov, George Bush, 2002


Making George Bush look as good as possible.

Is beauty objective or subjective?

If beauty is objective we ought to be able to isolate the beautiful element. But if beauty is subjective then the object means nothing at all as the concept of beauty becomes based on personal feelings.

Immanuel Kant

Types of liking

  1. the agreeable: governed by desire, subjective, private
  2. The good: governed by reason, universal, public e.g giving blood
  3. The beautiful: not governed by either desire or reason, universally subjective


We do not look at art in the same way as we look at the world. Poussin, The Martydom of St. Erasmus; scene would horrify us in real life but because it is an art work we view it in terms of the beauty of the painting. When we look at art disinterestedly it becomes formalisation OR Kant: we don’t disregard the content of the artwork, but we are not limited by it either.

Kant: If we call something beautiful, we expect others to agree with us even if they don’t.

What is the difference between natural beauty and beauty in art?

Van Gogh’s Irises versus real flowers: we don’t judge beauty on the basis of function. e.g we don’t judge the beauty of flowers on how well they grow or attract bees.



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