A Christian Guide to Beauty and Design | Beauty is Objective

Beauty is objective. That is, when I say that poster or a painting is beautiful or well designed, I am saying something about the work, not something about how I feel about it. I’m not offering a preference. I am saying something about the work’s nature or essence, it’s structure and the relations between its parts. You certainly should feel a preference toward beautiful things, but that has nothing to do with whether it is or is not beautiful. Whether you have good feelings toward a well designed painting is predicated upon your aesthetic development, a topic I shall discuss later when we talk about the Fall and Aesthetic Discipleship.

No all this is confused by our language. When we point to a poster, a painting, or album cover and say that it’s “good” or “beautiful”, that could mean three things. First, it could mean that I am saying something objective about it, that it is well designed, that is, it has the properties of a beautiful design. Second, It could mean a subjective preference. That is, I am saying something about myself and my internal state that may or may not relate to objective features of the object. Or third, both. That is, I am saying that I do think the object is objectively well designed and I subjectively enjoy it.

Unfortunately, this linguistic confusion has caused a lot of confusion in aesthetics. It has contributed one more brick in the house of relativism. But there is no need to conclude that beauty is subjective because of an opaqueness in our language.

Let me pause here. While there are subjective aesthetic preferences (for instance, cultural or individual preferences for certain colors or patterns), this has no effect on the objectivity of beauty and its properties. Just as people have preferences for different types of food, there are foundational properties of what makes good food for humans. Arsenic, for example, would not be good food. But the existence or culinary preferences in no way affects the necessary properties to make something good food. Okay, back to the argument.

Beauty, good design is objective. It is a feature of objects and we know this for a number of reasons.

So if beauty actually exists, what is it? What makes something beautiful? And while this question might seem difficult is actually quite simple and the same form of question has been asked and answered about many other properties. For instance, what makes something just or loving? And it is to that question that we will turn in the next video.

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