The emergence of modern art, and subsequently contemporary art, has brought with it a deep-rooted deliberation of the definition of beauty and its role in the realm of art. Unlike many representational artworks, contemporary art less often contains a beauty that is readily available on the surface of an artwork- an easy beauty. Instead, it often possesses a beauty that requires substantial reasoning and understanding- a difficult beauty. Just as the definition of beauty has and will continue to be culturally and historically changing, so must our methodological and pedagogical practices in regards to beauty and Aesthetics. As Art Educators, I feel it is our responsibility to help students process artworks that may contain these complexities (such as difficult beauty), in search of meaning and understanding. Through understanding is derived fluency in processing the artwork, which, in turn, leads to appreciation, and pleasure. The study conducted in this thesis investigated the relationship between beauty, ugliness, and meaning and explored the reasons behind judgments of beauty. It can be concluded, through the results, that beauty and meaning are closely related, and that meaning can have both positive and negative affects on judgments of beauty. Judgments of beauty are both cognitive and affective and appear to have social and cultural foundations, as well as a relationship to personal experience and meaning. Ultimately, strong personal meaning and experience, both positive and negative, outweighed physical, social, and cultural judgments of beauty. Meaning and experience greatly affect judgments of beauty. As educators, we can take the information gleaned from this study to enhance the ability of students to process artworks which contain complexities and may require understanding. As students become more able to recognize and process beauty in its many forms, the fluency in which they process such artworks will increase, thus promoting more positive aesthetic experiences. The children's book, Terrible the Beautiful Bear, contained in Chapter Six of this thesis, is an example of how to teach this concept to young children. Helping students become aware that beauty exists in curious and difficult places, and prompting them to search for meaning, gives students a greater capacity to take part in its pleasure.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts



Date Submitted


Document Type





beauty, ugliness, meaning, aesthetics, art, education



Included in

Art Practice Commons