WHAT IS BEAUTY?

I find utter beauty in the desert, in textures, in color. Others are drawn to the ocean, finding beauty in its powerful waves. This leads to the idea that beauty is more than an appearance of something, it is a feeling that excites the soul. It is a combination of qualities that are aesthetically pleasing. Beauty is the sum of personal and universally held perceptions. We work within an industry that teaches society what beauty is primarily through visual representations. Most people are on the receiving end of this information and a select few of us have the privilege of setting beauty standards. We get to create beauty through our art!

Let's take a deeper look into the concepts of beauty.  

UNIVERSAL CONCEPTS OF BEAUTY

Research does indicate that there are some universal perceptions of beauty noting specifically that we all find beauty in similar visual experiences, particularly landscapes (Dutton, 2010). Symmetry of facial features, clear skin, strong jaw lines in men, and high cheek bones in women all appear to be universally preferred across cultures (Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee, Druen & Wu, 1995; Landau, 2012). It is no wonder that in commercial photography we commonly find these qualities as marketers want to appeal to as many people within their target audience as possible. This is particularly notable in beauty product campaigns as seen below.

Photographer: heckmannoleg/iStock / Getty Images

Photographer: heckmannoleg/iStock / Getty Images

Photography has many composition rules that align with these universal qualities including Symmetry, the Rule of Thirds, and the Fibonacci Sequence/Golden Ratio. As we learn to develop our photographic eye, we are encouraged to follow these rules before we start breaking them. Take a look at the examples below. For many of us the photos elicit a positive emotion whether it is peace, warmth or connection. This is due in part to the use of composition rules. 

Model: Nga Nguyen

Model: Nga Nguyen

Symmetry: If an image can be split down the center and the left and right side of the image are mirror images of each other, then you have symmetry. This precise rule of composition is often used in beauty editorials.

Model: Sage Bell

Model: Sage Bell

Rule of Thirds: This composition rule requires that either 2/3 or 1/3 of the frame contains the subject or object that you wish to draw the viewer's attention to. The other area is often considered "white space" or may be in bokeh to ensure that the subject pops in the image.

Golden Ratio:  A ratio of approximately 1.618 to 1, a proportion that creates a sense of harmony and balance and is naturally occurring.  This aesthetically pleasing proportion where the largest shape is divided by a perfect square, and the resulting rectangle is an exact proportion to the original one.  As each new rectangle is broken down into another square and rectangle,a boxy spiral is created in the image.

Golden Ratio:  A ratio of approximately 1.618 to 1, a proportion that creates a sense of harmony and balance and is naturally occurring.  This aesthetically pleasing proportion where the largest shape is divided by a perfect square, and the resulting rectangle is an exact proportion to the original one.  As each new rectangle is broken down into another square and rectangle,a boxy spiral is created in the image.

Another quality of beauty that universally draws in the viewer is light. We enjoy watching the sun set as its dimming, golden light rolls in with the waves. We are moved by rays of light dancing through the clouds and sunflares peeking through the branches of a tree. A well lit photo is something of magic. Photographers have a special power in the being able to construct and manipulate light to enhance the beauty of an image. To be a master of light, is to be able to create beauty.

Photographer: ventdusud/ iStock / Getty Images

Photographer: ventdusud/ iStock / Getty Images

UNCONVENTIONAL CONCEPTS OF BEAUTY

Some qualities like length of hair (Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee, Druen & Wu, 1995) are not universally held. Asymmetrical features (other than the face) are also appreciated in some cultures outside of the United States and the United Kingdom. When we look at textile design it is clear that different color combinations are viewed as beautiful around the world. 

There is no exquisite beauty... without some strangeness in the proportion.
— Edgar Allan Poe

Poe makes a good point, beauty can also be found in what is unique to the eye, that which is different. I can remember as a young girl my friends wondering why some models had the privilege of modeling when they did not adhere to the "normal" standards of beauty and then later remarking about how beautiful the models were. They learned that this too was beautiful through exposure to its qualities. What seemed to make such models alluring was their distinct features that set them apart from the rest - and high fashion LOVES that which is exclusive. 

Photographer: mtoome/iStock / Getty Images

Photographer: mtoome/iStock / Getty Images

NONVISUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF BEAUTY

Our experience of beauty is not just visual. Our understanding of beauty runs deeper than that which we see. We also refer to actions, personality, and the soul as beautiful. Men and women alike are whole beings. The sum of their parts is what makes them beautiful through and through. 

There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.
— Steve Maraboli

When we think about who we collaborate with at AVARI, they are all beautiful people. What draws us into collaboration with them is not their visual beauty, though many of them fall into the realm of stereotypical beauty standards, it is their authenticities, their truths, their missions. A model that embodies beauty internally is the perfect model in our eyes. A creative with a vision beyond themselves is inspiring, is beautiful. 

OUR PERSONAL PERCEPTIONS OF BEAUTY

I mentioned earlier in this post that we also experience beauty in some profoundly individual ways. I have had paintings bring tears to my eyes. I have met people that are so beautiful that the word "beautiful" does not seem suitable enough of a description. I have found muses in models and in artists, captivated by their talents, their intelligence, and their love for the world around them.

Sure, one of my greatest strengths is an "Appreciation of Beauty," but what does this mean anyway? The VIA Institute on Character shares that I am highly responsive to: 

Physical beauty. This may be visual, auditory, tactile, or abstract. This type of goodness produces awe and wonder in the individual experiencing it.

Skill or talent (excellence). This is often energizing, and makes the individual want to pursue their own goals. It produces admiration.

Virtue or moral goodness (moral beauty). Virtual goodness makes the individual want to be better, more loving, and produces feelings of elevation.
— VIA Institute on Character

I admire, draw inspiration from, and am in constant awe of the talents of others and the goodness in each person. Beauty runs deeper than visual qualities for me. Beauty is an experience that elicits deep emotions of all varieties. Some of the saddest songs are among the most beautiful like "The Road" by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis as well as some of the darkest images as those seen in Dark Beauty Magazine. To say that beauty is only a positive experience would limit its scope, and frankly beauty runs the gamut.

As you embark on developing your brand, consider beauty holistically. We have the power to define beauty through the work that we create. How will you expand the standards of beauty?

Want to learn more about the concepts of beauty? Check out these TEDTALKS: 

Eva DeVirgilis: In My Chair: A Makeup Artist's Perspective On Beauty
Cameron Russell: Looks Aren't Everything. Believe Me, I'm A Model

References

Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee, Druen & Wu, 1995. "Their Ideas of Beauty Are, on the Whole, the Same as Ours": Consistency and Variability in the Cross-Cultural Perception of Female
Physical Attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68 (2), 261-279

Dutton, D. (2010, February). Dennis Dutton: A Darwinian Theory of Beauty [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty

Landau, E. (2012, March 3). Beholding beauty: How it's been studied. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/02/health/mental-health/beauty-brain-research/index.html