Beauty is a sense of harmony. Whether it’s an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beautiful, as a unit [and ask yourself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.

For instance, the simplest example would be a human face. You know what features belong in a human face. Well, if the face is lopsided, [with a] very indefinite jawline, very small eyes, beautiful mouth, and a long nose, you would have to say that’s not a beautiful face. But if all these features are harmoniously integrated, if they all fit your view of the importance of all these features on a human face, then that face is beautiful.

In this respect, a good example would be the beauty of different races of people. For instance, the black face, or an Oriental face, is built on a different standard, and therefore what would be beautiful on a white face will not be beautiful for them (or vice-versa), because there is a certain racial standard of features by which you judge which features, which face, in that classification is harmonious or distorted.

That’s in regard to human beauty. In regard to a sunset, for instance, or a landscape, you will regard it as beautiful if all the colors complement each other, or go well together, or are dramatic together. And you will call it ugly if it is a bad rainy afternoon, and the sky isn’t exactly pink nor exactly gray, but sort of “modern.”

Now since this is an objective definition of beauty, there of course can be universal standards of beauty — provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say, “It’s in the eyes of the beholder” — that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn’t [a matter of] what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness — but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.

Ayn Rand, question period following the lecture
The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 11
All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.