What counts as beautiful art? And how can you create it?

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Sometimes we come across a piece of art that is beautiful to us. But what makes a work of art considered beautiful? And how do you create it? Can for example an artwork that evoke a feeling of disgust be considered beautiful?

Here are some theories and concepts about the definition of art, beauty, pleasure derived from aesthetic objects, and tips on how you can go about creating your own beautiful artworks.

Related: What is Writer’s Block? (Creative Block for Artists/Musicians)

What counts as art?

By definition art is anything created by humans through imagination and creativity, most often to be interpreted by others. It can be a visual art piece (e.g. a painting, architecture, interactive media), music, literature, film, photography or a performing art (e.g. dance). 

Traditionally, art has been tied to technical skills and contextual knowledge. For example the use of the Golden Ratio and other technical guidelines. 

During many times in history, “real” art has been exclusive to those who have had the opportunity to study art from educational institutions or teachers and mentors. Even today, many believe that art is a luxury only afforded by the rich and those who do not need to think about how they’re going to afford food on the table.

In modern times however, there’s been movements of anti-art, aiming to break down old definitions of what counts as art or not. E.g. Dadaism. If you look at people’s attitudes towards art today, many young people seem to have a broad definition of what art is. Cool photo edits, videos, graffiti (e.g. Banksy), and other mixed-media art can be seen as art today.

In general as long as an artwork has some of these qualities, it can be perceived as art:

  • Requires technical skills or knowledge
  • Aesthetic taste 
  • Imagination (and a functional expression of it)
  • Creativity 
  • Self-expression (expression of an experienced feeling, thought, truth or idea)
  • Elicits emotions (can both be positive and “negative” such as disgust)
  • Cultural (memes, storytelling, contemporary aesthetic trends)

What is the definition of beauty in art?

Similar to the term art, beauty is also hard to define. The general consensus is that beauty is something that makes the object pleasurable to perceive. Common themes are landscapes, sunsets, and pretty nature or animals.

This means per definition that beautiful art doesn’t include art that only elicits negative emotions such as disgust and anger. However, art can both evoke negative emotions such as anger, but still have beautiful aspects to it (e.g. many dark, gloomy, and gothic artworks). 

For example, some may derive pleasure from sadness or decadence. Or a negative emotion/experience may be portrayed using beautiful aesthetics (e.g. a piece of music about something horrible, but made with pleasurable musical melodies and possessing poetic value).

In many ways, negative emotions can also be perceived as beautiful in life. But in regards to art, a beautiful artwork needs to also have some aspects that give rise to some sort of pleasurable experience to the viewer. That pleasurable experience does not need to be “positive” emotions such as happiness, but it can instead speak to values such as truth, authenticity, goodness, and relatability. 

So, very clearly, the definition of beauty in art is highly subjective. Some people may find a lot of pleasure in dwelling in dark and gloomy feelings, while others can only derive pleasure from objects devoid of any negative aspects of life.

Some interesting ways of defining beauty is:

  • Classical conceptions: Beauty is defined between the relations of the whole and its parts. E.g. proportions, geometry, and harmony
  • Hedonist conceptions: Pleasure needs to exist in order for something to be beautiful
  • Value
  • Function

Another interesting aspect of beauty is that it can both be biological (humans seem to biologically find symmetrical faces and health in others to be attractive and beautiful), at the same time as it can be cultural. 

Some things are seen as very beautiful in a certain period of time (such as specific interior design or architecture). But when that time period has passed and new ideas have overtaken the social norm, those old standards of beauty may no longer exist. So some things seem to be beautiful throughout time and history, and other things are not.

How to create beautiful art

So, how do you go about creating beautiful art? Based on what we’ve talked about earlier in this article you can go about it in a few different ways. 

Here are some ideas:

  1. Create things that seem to be universally judged as beautiful (following technical rules such as the Golden Ratio, recreate things that is commonly viewed as beautiful such as nature, beautiful healthy bodies, and use harmonious color schemes or proper musical chords)
  2. Observe current trends and spin off from what contemporary successful artists are already doing
  3. If you want to be more original: Create loads of different work in your own style, put it out to the world, and observe what others seem to respond well to
  4. Read and learn about aesthetics and pick up on elements that are generally pleasing to humans
  5. Trust your own judgement. Do you think it’s beautiful? Chances are that others will too. Sometimes you may just need to find the right audience that shares your values and aesthetics

Personally, I think this topic is really fun to think about, but I also think it’s a definition that is in a way perhaps meaningless to even discuss. Beauty is such a subjective thing, and perhaps something that is actually meaningless in the bigger picture. Perhaps beauty and art only feels important to us humans because it has hedonistic value and gives us pleasure, but perhaps it doesn’t even truly exist.

If every single human and intelligent being died, would beauty still exist? In a way, I don’t think it would. But in the same scenario, a stone that exist in the world would still exist even without anyone to perceive it. So perhaps a stone is more important than beauty! Or not. I’m not sure where I stand in this topic yet.

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