May 08, 2023

What is beauty?

By 1605 Collective
Art, Inspiration

Beauty has been a subject of human contemplation since the dawn of civilisation. Throughout history, artists have attempted to capture and communicate the essence of beauty in their works of art. From ancient cave paintings to modern photography, the concept of beauty has been a constant source of inspiration and fascination.

So what is beauty? The definition of beauty is subjective and varies from person to person. At its core, however, beauty is a quality or combination of qualities that gives pleasure to the senses or the mind. Beauty can be found in nature, art, music and people. It can be both physical and emotional, and often evokes feelings of admiration, awe and wonder.

Throughout the history of art, beauty has been a central theme. Ancient Greek and Roman art celebrated the human form, often depicting idealised figures that were symmetrical, proportionate and muscular. Renaissance art, on the other hand, focused on creating lifelike representations of the world, with an emphasis on the human body and its movements. The Baroque period saw the rise of ornate and lavish works of art, with artists often using light and shadow to create dramatic effects.


Zanele Muholi - 1605 Collective

Zanele Muholi


In the 19th century, the Romantic movement shifted the focus of art towards the sublime and emotional, with artists such as J.M.W. Turner and Caspar David Friedrich painting scenes of natural beauty that evoked a sense of awe and wonder. Impressionist art, which emerged in the late 19th century, emphasised the use of light and colour to capture the fleeting beauty of everyday life.

Photography has captured and celebrated beauty since its invention. In the early days of photography, the focus was on capturing realistic images of the world. However, as the medium evolved, photographers began to experiment with different techniques and styles to capture the essence of beauty. The work of Ansel Adams, for example, celebrated the beauty of the natural world, with his iconic black and white landscapes showcasing the grandeur of the American West. In the 20th century, fashion and beauty photography became a popular genre, with photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn creating stunning images that celebrated the beauty of the human form.

Contemporary art has challenged traditional notions of beauty and expanded the definition of what can be considered aesthetically pleasing. Many contemporary artists have moved away from representational art towards conceptual and abstract works, exploring themes such as identity, social justice and political activism. Beauty in contemporary art is often found in unexpected places, such as the use of unconventional materials, the juxtaposition of disparate elements and the exploration of negative space. Rather than trying to create a perfect image, contemporary artists are more interested in expressing their ideas and emotions, using art as a medium for personal and social transformation. As a result, contemporary art often challenges viewers to confront their preconceptions and expand their understanding of what constitutes beauty.


Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas 


There are many contemporary artists and photographers who work with the concept of beauty in their art. Here are a few examples:

Cindy Sherman - an American photographer who explores themes of identity and gender through her portraits, which often challenge traditional standards of beauty.
Yayoi Kusama - a Japanese artist who creates immersive installations and sculptures that celebrate the beauty of pattern and repetition.
Jeff Koons - an American artist who creates sculptures that often feature shiny, reflective surfaces and vibrant colours, exploring the boundaries between high and low art and challenging traditional notions of beauty.
Vik Muniz - a Brazilian artist who creates intricate and detailed photographs using unconventional materials such as chocolate, diamonds and trash to explore beauty in unexpected places.
Wolfgang Tillmans - a German photographer who creates abstract and experimental works that explore themes of beauty and the sublime through the use of light and colour.


Florence Henri - 1605 Collective

Florence Henri 


Today, the concept of beauty continues to inspire artists and photographers around the world. With the advent of new technologies and techniques, artists are able to push the boundaries of what is considered beautiful and create new and exciting works of art. From the natural beauty of the world around us to the beauty of the human spirit, beauty remains a central and enduring theme in the world of art and photography.

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