Beauty is a complex concept that inspires and refracts the world around us. It evokes feelings in us that we cannot articulate, but which we sense as a sensation of the divine, an experience of transcendence and joy. This makes beauty elusive to define, and its perception is an endless source of fascination for philosophers, poets, and artists.
One way of understanding beauty is to see it as a pattern of order. This could be the arrangement of leaves on a stem or the proportions of limb length in well-proportioned people. Aquinas takes this further by defining beauty as the manifestation of Goodness as Truth. This accounts for the beauty of a rainbow or the beauty of an orderly city, and it satisfies Kant’s intuition that beauty ennobles us and gives us a sense of purpose.
Another way of thinking about beauty is to see it as a form of pleasure. This view combines beauty with justice, as in the allegory of love where the mortal soul (Psyche) becomes divine and immortal in a marriage of equality with Cupid. This translates into a sense of fairness in relationships, and gives birth to the pleasure of beholding beauty, which transforms human interactions.
It is possible to combine both perspectives, as in the design philosophies of Sagmeister and Walsh who use the equation M = O/C (M is organisation, O is complexity) to decide on something’s beauty, or the way in which a beautiful building can be both rational and evocative. Or consider the beauty of a perfume that is both simple and luxurious. Whether through simplicity, ornamentation or boundary-pushing image-making, beauty is and always will be vital to our experiences of the world.