OP #5: Subjective Beauty: It’s All in the Eye of the Beholder

Not too long ago in my Visual Art: History and Application class, we looked at the Venus of Willendorf, a paleolithic limestone statuette. When presented with the slide, many in my class expressed disgust, confusion, or amusement at the figure that Paleolithic man had worshipped. Our teacher laughed a bit at our antics and then began to talk about beauty and it’s different connotations throughout history. Though we only stayed on the topic for a minute or so, one thing thing that was said struck me: “Beauty is subjective—it all depends on the perspective” (class discussion).

Definition: The definition of beauty from Merriam Webster Online.

Venus of Willendorf: A basic overview of the Venus of Willendorf.

The Venus of Willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf

It is true that the Venus of Willendorf does not much resemble the idea that our present culture embraces as the ideal female figure, however to those that created her, she was beautiful. But how could one concept encompass two such seemingly unrelated ideas? Maybe it could if it truly were the ideas that were important and not the forms—what is often called ‘inner beauty’. Inner beauty focuses on what something means or what qualities it has on the inside, rather than the actual physical appearance of a person. Perhaps, across the ages, the word ‘beauty’ only refers to what is inside while another word—something more like attractiveness—could be used to describe what is on the outside. I see beauty and attractiveness as two very different things, though they have come to be used interchangeably. Attractiveness is merely superficial, while beauty is an idea that can stretch across twenty-five millennia.

Ironically, the Venus of Willendorf shares the name of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Aphrodite’s version of ‘beauty’ is a much more modern one than that of this Paleolithic goddess, as she is usually depicted as slender, tall, and well-proportioned (by today’s standards). Aphrodite means to us, what this fertility figure must have meant to Paleolithic man, though if switched, neither would last long in the other’s world.

Proposition: Beauty is subjective, it is merely a concept defined by perspective.

Picture Source: http://www.physorg.com/news137336974.html


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