TED Conversations

Gerald O'brian


This conversation is closed.

Define beauty.

Do we know what it is yet, or do we go by with a gut feeling about what it is, such as one our ancestors had about inertia or gravity?
Is beauty universal?



Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 15 2013: Susan Ann Darley from the Huffinton Post recently published an article(1) pleading that people should listen to more beautiful music to help cope with the physical, emotional, and mental health of their everyday stressful lives. With a cliché, she reminds her readers that music, “is the language of the soul,” and even states that its power to heal is equal to the effects of “natural painkillers”. Although this article’s underlining idea is a lofty way of summarizing the study of music therapy, Darley still falls short from justifying what “beautiful music” really means. Indeed, many academics would agree that “[beauty] is in the culturally conditioned eye of the beholder”.(2) Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct — a book that explores art aesthetics in relation to evolution and social structures — disagrees with this perspective, that “beauty” is not so ambiguous as it seems, and even states that our regard for what is considered “beautiful” is in fact embedded within the very nature of human life.

    In short, Dutton continues to defend this idea by explaining that the first pieces of art known to human history were hand axes that took on the shape of a teardrop. These objects were used by the male homo erectus and ergaster to "woo" a female into mating, similar to how a man may propose with a teardrop-shaped-diamond ring today.

    In essence, the teardrop shape represents the formula for timeless beauty: a perfect balance between masculine and feminine traits, as seen in the ancient hand axe: the voluptuous curve on the bottom of the teardrop is a feminine contour and is balanced by a stark point on top (a masculine aesthetic), which is connected with a transitional tapered edge. This shape is the epitome of contrast, a familiar ideal related to the symbolism that the Chinese Yin Yang embodies also: a balance of positive and negative elements. (3)

    Thus, in short, beauty is the balanced contrast of all things: from the prime form to the inversion of itself.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.