What is meant by “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?

The proverb, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, posits an important relationship between beauty and those who behold it. The proverb can apply to people or to things.

It means that:

  • everything is beautiful, as long as we can see it.
  • beauty is created subjectively by the people who look at an object or person.
  • it falls to us to ascertain when something is beautiful.
  • we should look for good in all things.
  • we can find beauty everywhere.

Thus, this proverb can be interpreted in various ways. The proverb is a cornerstone of many debates on aesthetics. This saying can help us to understand some artworks. Philosophers and art critics have long debated where beauty lies. Does it lie inherently in an object? Or, is it created in the mind of the observer?

For example, in his Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant argued for the former. He argued that beautiful objects have an inherently beautiful form. However, some objects, such as Duchamp’s famous urinal are not always taken to be inherently beautiful. Only some art critics and beholders enjoy looking at artworks like this one.

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