I argue that everything can be beautiful … as long as somebody with authority claims it to be.
To make something beautiful is thus not about curves versus rectangles, saturation, hue, symmetry, proportions, or any other hidden “aesthetic code.” To make something beautiful is about deciding what to make, exposing people to it, and claiming with authority that it is beautiful. In this respect beauty is more or less constructed socially. There are no Platonic ideals, waiting to be uncovered. There are ideals waiting to be fashioned, and there is intersubjective agreement to be reached by familiarity and authority.
For design this is freedom and burden at the same time. Although we can establish everything as beautiful—even streamlined toasters—we become more and more aware of the responsibility this implies. It was us and not any evolutionary aesthetic code that established the wasp waist, subjecting women to cracked and deformed ribs, weakened abdominal muscles, and deformed and dislocated internal organs. Was Rubens just depicting the beauty ideal of his time, or was he actually setting it to voluptuous, stout, and luxuriant? Is it some hard-wired evolutionary preference or us who decided to create a beauty ideal in cars that look as if they run on chummy pedestrians rather than on gasoline
Do you agree?