What is Beauty? 3 Ways to Know

I attended a very interesting inquiry (called a Wisdom Salon) a few weeks ago at Landmark Education where we could only ask questions, no debating or rebuttals just questions. So first, it was opened by attempting to define beauty, and here are 3 ways to know ‘What is beauty?’:

1. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘beauty’ is primarily an abstract noun—but it can also be a concrete noun (as in: ‘She is a beauty’) and once upon a time it was also a verb (e.g. The harlot beauties her cheek’). 

2. Wikipedia says Beauty is a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning, or satisfaction.

3. I like this answer best, in Philosophy Talk; beauty as that which brings enjoyment to the person who looks or contemplates.

What’s the bottom line? You can’t define beauty at all, it is completely subjective.  Here are some of the questions that were asked inside the ‘salon’ I attended:

Is beauty a feeling?
Is something beautiful because you can get others to agree with you?
How would you know it’s missing?
How would you know it’s there?
Is there any point in asking what it is?
Is this room beautiful?
Is every colour beautiful?
Is nature beautiful?
Is beauty made up?
If beauty is made up, why did we make it up?
Do we need beauty to exist?
Does beauty touch all of our senses?
Can you smell beauty?
Is there beauty in loss?
Does music make you happy?
Why is sad music beautiful?
Is sad music beautiful?
Can beauty be measured?
Is beauty inherited?
Is beauty cultural?
Is beauty ever inappropriate?
Who gets to say?

So then I got to thinking about our home and I thought of a bunch of other questions that would apply to making our homes happy and beautiful:

Is your home beautiful?
Is it beautiful if it’s the current trend?
Are trends beautiful?
Is it beautiful because your designer says it is?
Or because you find it in a magazine?
Is it beautiful because you say so?
Is your home a reflection of you?
And, maybe that’s all that matters!
What is Beauty to you?
If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me for on-line or in-person decorating and colour.
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  1. I am wondering why you would be even be asking this question. Underneath all this blogging you do, you seem so much deeper than this. Isn't beauty obvious?

  2. I was just reading your question,"Are trends beautiful?" and my first impulse was to say "no", but I have changed my mind. I was considering the fact that no colour or shape is really new but when a trend is emerging it is like we are looking at these colours or shapes through 'new' eyes, discovering or rediscovering and becoming excited. I think that's a beautiful thing. That is how a child sees the world.

  3. Cherri @ SmartyPantalons

    I saw this quote the other day on Yum & Yuk (a great blog) and I think it applies here:

    “And then one student said that happiness is what happens when you go to bed on the hottest night of the summer, a night so hot you can’t even wear a tee-shirt and you sleep on top of the sheets instead of under them, although try to sleep is probably more accurate. And then at some point late, late, late at night, say just a bit before dawn, the heat finally breaks and the night turns into cool and when you briefly wake up, you notice that you’re almost chilly, and in your groggy, half-consciousness, you reach over and pull the sheet around you and just that flimsy sheet makes it warm enough and you drift back off into a deep sleep. And it’s that reaching, that gesture, that reflex we have to pull what’s warm – whether it’s something or someone – toward us, that feeling we get when we do that, that feeling of being sad in the world and ready for sleep, that’s happiness.” – Paul Schmidtberger (Design Flaws of the Human Condition)

  4. Kelly @ JAX does design

    Wow, that's a tough question! Beauty in design is when I look at a room or a item and it makes my eyes happy (if that makes any sense!) Beauty in people is far more than how they look – it's about what's on the inside, not the outside.

    Is that too corny?!

    Kelly

  5. Beauty stops me, it takes my breath away. As I grow, I find beauty in the young, in the old, and in the moment of gratitude.
    Beautiful post.
    pve

  6. Maria,

    Beauty leaves me speechless, teary eyed, and listening to that voice in my head that says "wow". Be it a beautiful ball gown, landscape, sunset, rainbow, flowers, people, places or things, whatever your heart desires that sparks an emotion of excitement. A dream house, defined design for a room, colors perfected, and details galore…these are a few of the beautiful things that define beauty for me.

    Bette

  7. Ah, Maria, you satisfy me anew! Thank you for making us all think, consider, and stretch. It is one of the reasons I read your column religiously.

  8. Space by Eliana Tomas

    Maria,
    As always, great posts with great content!
    Love this article. I once posted about perceiving beauty.
    I believe the word I use all the time is beautiful – something like "So beauuutiful".

    You know, both you and I work in this business because we love beauty and because we want to give beauty. And all that because we're beautiful 🙂

    Life is beautiful.

  9. In the one beautyful picture of the blue sky and the weeds with the white. Is that snow or is that the sand?

    A very thought provoking post.

  10. Interesting questions to ponder…
    I believe beauty is entirely subjective..definitely "in the eye of the beholder." I also believe that beauty is truth, especially when we are referring to our homes. An authentic home is a beautiful home.

  11. I love this discourse on beauty. I agree with Patricia and all that she said. As I age (gracefully I hope) beauty is apearing to me in places never before noticed. I guess it is more important than ever to take it all in.

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

  12. That is a very good question…which elicits even more questions…

    A thought to ponder…My grandfather used to say that there is beauty in even the ugliest thing. You just have to look carefully to discover it…
    Jane (artfully graced)

  13. Maya @ Completely Coastal

    I think beauty to me is foremost peace and harmony. So any location, room, art piece… an so on, that evokes that sense, I find beautiful. And I guess it even applies to myself -if I'm at peace, I feel beautiful.

  14. Mosaicista Appassionata

    I admire the way you associated "beauty" and the seminar you attended with your work. You are a pro!

  15. Bravo to you for tackling this topic of what is beauty. I'm sure i'll be referring back to it again and again, as well as showing it to clients. By the way, have you ever read The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? This book tackles an even tougher topic – what is quality. Maybe that could be a future blog…..
    Cheers
    cky design group

  16. Thank you for this, especially the last about the home. I have been thinking about this same topic lately. It gives you things to think about.
    🙂

  17. I am so glad I had time to stop by today and read this post. I am going to take "it" with me to work and contemplate throughout my day.

    I think beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…..whether it be in art, music, nature, our homes…etc..that is what makes us all so unique!

  18. traci zeller designs

    I LOVE this post, Maria. I agree with you — beauty is that which brings enjoyment to the person who looks or contemplates. If a person's home brings enjoyment to them, who cares what the rest of us think? Of course, if a person's home is bringing them enjoyment, they probably aren't calling a designer anyway. 😉
    xoxo!

  19. Maria: I've been thinking about this for a while. While joy that comes from any experience, high or low, is always beautiful, there is still the objective beautiful. When you show us pictures of colors and settings that don't work (it was probably beautiful to someone), it is always very clear why the trained eye creates a more harmonious vision. Subjective and Objective beauty exist together. Objective beauty endures. If that makes any sense.
    xo
    Liz

  20. Maria..I Sooo enjoyed this post! I see the beauty in so many things around me..and I look for it the way you look for color and see it every where you go. I do believe everyone's sense of 'beauty' is defined by their own likes and dislikes to some degree. And there are things that we all look at and can agree are beautiful or ugly without equivocation.

    I love to capture beauty in 'every day objects', like a bowl with two brown eggs..catching the morning sun. Even though my blog is very practical..I strive to make every photo..intensely beautiful. You really inspired that in me when you first talked about how much people love the photos you use for your posts. I want people to see the 'art' in homemaking to inspire them to live 'lovely' lives.

    One thing that struck me about the photos you chose today. They were all of children with gorgeous smiles on their faces. The most beautiful thing in the world is a smile. The ugliest old woman in a third world country can look gloriously beautiful when she has 'that smile' of sheer joy on her face. I read a post about how to take pictures of yourself and pose to get the best possible 'look'. One of the most important elements was to be truly unselfconscious. To laugh.. To think joyful thoughts.. so that the camera can capture the essence of who YOU are. In your photos..you show this. Although beauty is subjective in some situations, some things, like a smile, are inherently beautiful..don't you think?

    xo
    Donna @ Comin' Home