People respond emotionally and intellectually
to visual images, often recognizing characteristics that make a something seem
beautiful without even thinking about it. Philosophers call the reaction to
an appealing quality an aesthetic response. Aesthetic responses may vary from
person to person, and individuals often have different ideas about what makes
an artwork beautiful. Some people respond to certain subjects because they
associate them with pleasure. Others may find a particular combination of lines,
colors, and shapes appealing without understanding the meaning of the artwork.
In the 1700s and 1800s, European philosophers and art schools (called academies)
developed formulas to analyze and create beautiful works of art. Understanding
compositional elements such as balance, unity, rhythm, and harmony became a
formula to guide artists as they created works. By following these rules, they
could learn to produce beautiful artworks that many so-called untrained artists
Judged by these traditional standards, many contemporary artworks would not
be described as beautiful or pleasurable. Then why are they considered art?
Contemporary artists often want viewers to think about art in a different way,
beyond the traditional rules of beauty. For many, it is more important that
the works are interesting, thought-provoking, and challenging.
Download, print and distribute copies of the PDF worksheet below. After
sharing the introduction, present all the related images, one at a time.
Do not provide
any background information
except for the title of each artwork. Ask students to fill in the form as
view each image. When completed, student volunteers can tally the final results
and report them to the class.
Based on the responses given in the “Why?” column, create a
class profile of standards for beauty in art.
Should Art Be Beautiful? worksheet (downloadable
Related works of art (online version)
Related works of art (downloadable PDF version)
“ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What does this saying mean?
How does it apply to the question “What is art?”
©2004 Walker Art Center