Last night I had the interesting experience of reading Kant’s “Analytic of the Beautiful” while watching “America’s Next Top Model.” Kant’s concern was to find a way we can speak of a universal quality of “beauty” even though each person has differing “tastes” when it comes to aesthetic judgment. “Top Model” takes ordinary girls and transforms them into high fashion models under the watchful eye of Tyra Banks. And thus strangely, both pose the difficult question: what is beauty? How can we know what is beautiful? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or can we come to some agreement about its essential qualities?
(Yes, I watch America’s Next Top Model. I also like musical theatre and Archie comics. Taste varies between individuals! Kant, judging from his book, liked canary wine and floral wallpaper.)
In a particularly interesting scene, the prize for winning one of the “challenges” posed by Tyra was a chance for one of the models to have a private viewing of da Vinci’s “Last Supper” (this season was filmed in Italy). The challenge-winner was overcome by the experience of seeing the masterpiece in person (of experiencing its “aura,” in Walter Benjamin’s terms), by being in the presence of a work of such aesthetic and religious significance. It’s not the same as just looking at a postcard! For me, it was an intriguing coming-together of several definitions of beauty… our concepts of the beauty of art, the beauty of the human person, “fashion,” decor, style as well as our ‘subjective’ experience of ‘objective’ beauty… very interesting.
Hopefully Kant will be a guest judge next season.