|The Wave by William-Adolphe Bouguereau|
A true aesthete is concerned and fascinated by beauty itself, by beauty for its own sake. It could be nature, an object of art, a real person or even a life-style. It may have its roots in the eyes of a beholder, yet mostly it manages to transcend the perspective of one unique being and becomes a sample or carnation of its absolute ideal and immaculate (Platonic) form.
It is the answer to the question what is beauty and how it is represented. What makes a face or body appealing or attractive? Although one's personal standards are different, when we agree on and sum up each particle of beauty, we will manage to conceive a picture of the whole, the “big picture”. A perfectly beautiful woman would be the perfect proportions of all beautiful features combined and enmeshed with a beautiful soul.
Beauty by today's standards is less that quest for the ideal, but rather a quick and hasty appropriation and supposed ownership of the object of beauty. A work of art that appeals to our senses, that we perceive as beautiful, we want to own. By buying it and putting a beautiful vase on our table, we have the chance of observing it at our own will and pleasure. We have, in other words, beauty at our hands and disposal.
When we have had our fill of the desired object, we believe that a more complete, more superior and more gratifying beauty can be found somewhere else. An art collector will not be satisfied with a few pieces; they need to have the whole ensemble of artistic works.
So far I do not have any problems with the conception of beauty. Yet it becomes rather complicated when we are talking about a person. The person becomes then the object we would like to possess, and that feeling that drives us is often given its romantic - and euphemistic - name “love”. As Nietzsche, not exactly a romantic but still quite a passionate man, claims love is more often than not a power struggle of possession and ownership between people.
Beauty may walk on the streets, but our desire of owning it will always burn within us. We are not merely satisfied with watching and admiring beautiful people on the street, we want to make them our own. In our modern lingo possession either becomes a quick sexual encounter or an attempt of “everlasting” marriage or commitment. Through either of these options we (falsely) believe that the beautiful object is going to be always there within our reach.
The other day I was admiring two beautiful women on the bus. Usually, from past habit, I would be tempted to talk to them, to try to win them over, to conquer them, to own them. Whenever beauty happened to pass by, I would sigh with sadness and believe I was the one constantly left and missing out from the beautiful game of love.
But now with rather more mature eyes and a shot of Greek, in particular Platonic philosophy, I have learned to appreciate beauty for its own sake. It is also a Buddhist kind of “letting go.” I feel no pressure in observing the beautiful person and enjoying the person's (physical) beauty the same way one enjoys watching a sun disappear on the horizon. It is fleeting yes, but by separating the sense of beauty from all other sensations and desires, one can look at beauty without pressure or pain, yet simply with the eyes of a lover of life and wisdom, namely as beauty for beauty's sake.