My definitions of “beauty” and “taste”

Semantic arguments are bad, so I like to define words I use. Here’s how I think about “beauty” and “taste”.


Beauty is the result of a harmonious relationship of parts. “Part” might be used in the manufacturing sense, where different parts are combined to produce an artefact. It could be areas in a painting, or individual brush strokes. It could be the neck of a vase, and its base.

When those parts are good together, the artefact is beautiful.

Beauty is universal. It cuts across cultures and time. Something that was beautiful 2,000 years ago is still beautiful today. Beauty belongs to the object, not to the person who looks at it.

People interact with beauty in different ways.

First, everyone is affected by beauty because it is universal. Each person might be affected in a different way.

Second, some people take the time to understand why artefacts are beautiful. These people could be curators, or critics.

Third, some people learn the knowledge and skills to make beautiful artefacts. This includes designers.


I think there are two valid definitions of “taste”.

  1. A person has taste if they understand why artefacts are beautiful.
  2. A person has taste if they have knowledge of and a preference for current style trends.

In the first case, the person can choose artefacts that are more beautiful. They can talk about why they are beautiful. If they also make artefacts, they can choose between possible directions based on which is more beautiful.

You can develop this type of taste. You must be exposed—and pay attention—to many beautiful artefacts. Eventually your brain’s pattern recognition kicks in. You start to see what beautiful artefacts have in common. You understand why one artefact is beautiful and another isn’t. People who were “born with” taste were simply exposed to beauty from an early age.

In the second case, the person knows which style to choose to appeal to current cultural preferences.

You can develop this type of taste as well. You must seek out and remember new style trends. While an understanding of beauty is timeless, this second type of taste means that you need to be on top of modern styles for as long as you want to have “taste”.