Traditionally, beauty has been viewed as a combination of qualities that give pleasure. These qualities are often associated with pleasure, value, and function. These conceptions of beauty were rooted in the eighteenth century, when post-Enlightenment confidence in the human ability to judge and appreciate things was high.
In the nineteenth century, the notion of beauty was largely abstracted from the physical realm. The beauty of a particular thing could be described in mathematical terms, for example, by its numerical pattern expressed in its arrangement of leaves on the stem of a plant. It could also be perceived by its symmetry or proportion, such as the golden ratio.
In contrast to the hedonist conceptions, the classical conception of beauty emphasizes the wholeness and harmony of the object. For example, Euclid uses a line divided into two unequal parts to represent the idea of beauty.
In modern and contemporary times, people often associate beauty with aesthetic principles, such as whiteness and fairness. This is a result of society’s tendency to reinforce stereotypical ideas of beauty. In order to fit the culture, people go to extremes. In the twentieth century, these associations led to the trivialization of beauty. This created a tension between the ideal and individuality.
In the twentieth century, many thinkers were suspicious of the distractions that arise from beauty. Twentieth-century thinkers were unsure how to reconcile beauty with the age of wars, genocide, and wastelands. These thinkers were suspicious of art that was focused on making people feel better. They were also suspicious of artistic forms that emphasized the beauty of an object or its aesthetic qualities.
David Hume’s Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (1758) reaffirmed the concept of beauty as a subjective quality. He argued against tyrannical notions of taste and emphasized the role of the individual will in deciding how to act in a given situation. He wrote that beauty could be both gentle and gentle-tempered. This account of the beautiful was a keystone of his broader criticism of the idea of taste.
Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist, wrote about ecstatic pleasures and wonderment, as well as the unity of objects. He also described how God manifests beauty through creation.
Aesthetic conceptions of beauty usually describe the pleasures of beauty in ecstatic terms. For example, in Islamic geometric design, a complex geometric pattern is represented as larger perfection. Such designs can be seen in religious texts and mosques.
The modern understanding of beauty has been shaped by several theorists, who attempted to address the antinomy between taste and uselessness. In the 1990s, feminist-oriented reconstruals of beauty were popular. Other theorists, such as Arthur Danto, have described the abandonment of beauty in the 1990s as an ‘age of indignation’.
The revival of interest in beauty in the 1990s was partly centered on the work of art critic Dave Hickey. The reconstrual of beauty as an expression of feminine values was also prominent in the late twentieth century. Some theorists, such as Santayana, argued that beauty is subjective. Others, such as Edmund Burke, read beauty as a series of qualities that were meaningful only through the senses.