Have You Ever Wondered Why Are Humans Drawn to Beauty?

I spent my childhood years in a naturally beautiful place: the Pacific Northwest of the United States. My parents loved the outdoors and frequently took our family on trips to see the mighty Pacific Ocean or the majestic volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range. At times, even as a child, I would sit quietly contemplating and reveling in the overwhelming beauty I encountered. It was difficult to put into words as a child, but I felt as though beauty meant something and that it was something good.

Over time, I began to wonder what all this beauty in the world was for and contemplated its undeniable draw on human beings. I watched a lot of nature shows in which spectacular beauty in the animal kingdom was said to be an instinctual preference to preserve a species. However, beauty, in total, seemed to be ridiculously beyond what was instinctually necessary to attract a mate, such as a Mozart symphony, a Van Gogh painting, or a sunset on the ocean. I sensed that beauty pointed me towards something more transcendent and everlasting, not just something physical and immediate.

God is beautiful

I was given a Bible my senior year of high school by a music teacher I greatly respected who caught me at just the right moment when I was searching for some answers, such as the meaning behind, and draw to, beauty. As I encountered those Scriptures, I read:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.”
Psalm 27:4 ESV

Though I had never thought about it before, I began to realize that God is beautiful. As the Scriptural authors convey, his beauty is desirous, and it is further reflected in all of his creation:

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Romans 1:20 ESV

I reasoned that if this God is the Creator of everything, if he is beautiful, and if he made his creation in reflection of his own qualities (Gen. 1:26), then it makes sense that his creation draws me towards Himself. The draw that I feel towards his ultimate beauty is, in some ways, like how a great piece of art draws me to know the artist. However, it’s not just the splendor of the natural world around me that has such sway, but it’s the beauty of humans, as well.

Humans reflect God’s beauty

I sometimes wonder if we have difficulty encountering the pull of God’s transcendent beauty, because we’ve forgotten how truly beautiful humans really are. I’m not simply referencing physical beauty, but also the design of the human body, the emotional depth, cognitive complexity, moral quality, plus the unity in diversity. If nature’s beauty strikes a chord with us, then humanity is a symphony of experiences. And that symphony tugs at our desire to understand who and what we are as human beings, as something more than a cosmic accident.

The timeless quality and irreplaceable value that we see in each other are attributes not best explained as arising from the chaos and pitiless indifference of blind physical forces that have no aim or end. Such origins would leave these qualities without proper meaningfulness, and with no apt reason for why we should comprehend their existence at such depth. For analogy, chaotic origins would seem to reflect the indifference of John Cage’s musical composition “4:33,” in which music is defined as anything and nothing,[1] rather than the meaning-packed complexity of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” in which there is masterful musical form and purposed emotional intent. Our human attributes entail intentionality, purpose, and worth; qualities that arise from an artist, a personal creator, rather than from unconscious forces. As the Psalmist expresses:

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.”
Psalm 139: 13-14

There exists an aesthetic of meaning and value to our existence, and we’re attracted to it just like we are attracted to beauty and design in nature. Humans are an irreplaceable work of art that compels us to discover the fashioning artist.

Beauty and the sciences 

The natural beauty of our environment and the complex beauty of human beings serve as signposts towards the Creator through the many different ways in which they signal intentionality, purpose and design. Yet, further, the ever-increasing discoveries of science aid our understanding of how beauty literally impacts our mental health and wellness.[2] Combinations of colour and light, as well as their outworking in art, can improve human psychology, resulting in astounding effects such as quicker recovery from illness.[3]

Further, studies have found that humans respond positively to scenes of nature and as well as spending time surrounded by natural beauty:

“Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of positive[sic] emotions and calming our nervous systems.”[4]

The call of beauty in our lives is not just for theological or philosophical reflection, but comes down to even the basic psychological and physiological impact.[5]

So why are humans drawn to beauty?

It seems to be so because beauty impacts us and calls to us in every aspect of life. From our mental and physical health to our greater understanding of what it means to be human, we are constantly faced with the aesthetic of meaning and intentionality, the beauty of design. We have been made in the image of a perfectly beautiful God, and our desire for beauty finds its fulfillment in Him.

While there is so much more to be said on this matter, a good starting point for conversation is the creation of humans who reflect God’s likeness, not just in physical aspects, but also in emotional, intellectual, and moral beauty as well. As we desire to understand our unmistakable draw to beauty, perhaps one of the most powerful places to begin is by looking into the eyes of our fellow humankind.

Mary Jo Sharp is Assistant Professor of Apologetics at Houston Christian University

[1] One could argue that Cage’s piece is an interpretation of the beauty of the everyday incidental sounds of humans. But, in my music education background, I noticed how many trained musicians have an abject dislike of this piece of ‘music,’ which seems to deconstruct the meaning of the term, “music,” beyond any reconciliation. In other words, it really annoys us.

[2] MacDonald, Fiona. “Here’s How Colours Really Affect Our Brain And Body, According to Science.” ScienceAlert, September 28, 2017. https://www.sciencealert.com/does-colour-really-affect-our-brain-and-body-a-professor-of-colour-science-explains.

[3] “Visual Art in Hospitals: Case Studies and Review of the Evidence – Louise Lankston, Pearce Cusack, Chris Fremantle, Chris Isles, 2010.” Accessed November 21, 2022. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1258/jrsm.2010.100256.

[4] Greater Good. “What Happens When We Reconnect With Nature.” Accessed November 21, 2022. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_happens_when_we_reconnect_with_nature.

[5] Further investigation: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-brain-responds-to-beauty/ and https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_happens_when_we_reconnect_with_nature. Though these studies are interpreted strictly through a sociobiological evolutionary perspective, they aptly communicate that something psychological and physiological is happening.