Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder: Picturesque Interpretations

            Artwork encompasses many elements and can evoke a multitude of emotions depending on the audience. This only strengthens the argument that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. What is beautiful, picturesque, ugly, or even frightening; all depends on the opinion of the onlooker and the context of the object.  In these photos the ideas of picturesque are interpreted while still holding on to the beauty and “smoothness” of the image. The photos are made to resemble sublime nature as it applies to the ideas of Edmund Burke, the author of “On the Sublime.” Also these pictures capture nature in different light and from interesting angles in order to evoke more emotion from the audience. Using perspective and creativity helped to focus in on the different textures and stories within the objects. Another element these pictures capture is the truth behind the lens and beauty in my eyes. The juxtaposition between the hard and soft elements is a perfect representation of nature and the differences between beauty and the picturesque. But the contrast between the two also connects them in a way that complements each other. Without one the other would not exist. To find true exquisiteness depends on the ability to see both.

The picturesque, according to William Gilpin author of “On Picturesque Beauty,” is rough. Instead of focusing on the smooth, eye catching beauty of a painting or object, the picturesque can be found in the imperfections and rugged edges of that same piece. These photos focus on the comparison between roughness and smoothness. In Figure 1 the stone on the bottom half of the image shows the uneven and jaggedness of the rocks while the upper half displays the smooth greenery we find in the beautiful landscapes that surround us every day. Zooming in on both the top and bottom of this picture, however, we find imperfections in the asymmetric patters and naturalness of the leaves (Figures 2, 3 & 4) while finding beauty in the smooth sides of the stone and the way it sparkles in the sunlight (Figure 6). Just as in a painting or a person, what you see from a distance isn’t always what it seems to be when you get up close. Though some find beauty in the imperfections, and others find it in the flawless creation of an object or scene; I find that true beauty comes from the things that share both of these characteristics. Nothing is perfect but everything has a degree of perfectness. Uvedale Price discusses in his essays on the picturesque that even though both beauty and the picturesque are distinct, they are connected, and each one reciprocates light upon the other. I believe that looking into the heart of a piece allows you to examine both its beauty and its picturesque. By only observing the surface, you lose the ability to see both. Now not only do the “ideas of beauty vary… with the eye of the spectator” (Gilpin), but they vary with the spectator’s ability to look past the cover and see what is truly there. The interpretation of the picturesque versus beauty comes down to one’s own beliefs and their ideas behind the two concepts. Just as the external appearance of the photos show the contrast between hard and soft, the beliefs behind the two are just as juxtaposed. Just as ones beliefs differ between picturesque and beauty the idea of the sublime can be just as divided.

The sublime as defined by Edmund Burke is painful and terrifying, but to me it is exactly the opposite. I find sublime to be inspiring, touching and all around pleasant. When I look at my pictures I see life and color and beauty from every angle. Capturing terror can be every one of these qualities in the minds of certain people, but to me the feeling of inspiration should over power any terrible fears you may have. Burke describes that horror overpowers the idea of pleasure making it much more sublime, but I feel there is nothing sublime about giving into the things that scare you the most. For me these pictures weren’t about capturing the ideas and beliefs of others but solely focusing on my interpretation of concepts. Concentrating on the aspects of color and light I tried to bring my pictures to life instead of keeping them in the dark. My understanding of the sublime may not fit into the beliefs of Burke, but different beliefs are what bring light and perspective to ideas. Having my own opinion helped me to capture photos that spoke to my own beliefs and lifted my pictures to a higher level. Taking a different approach and angle to the sublime made these pictures my own.

These photos were taken and manipulated from many angles and throughout different times of the day. To capture the beauty behind everyday objects such as a stone wall or greenery, the physical perspective and angle is very important. A different viewpoint was able to bring new life and brilliance to an otherwise boring scene. Also taking the pictures at different points throughout the day gave way to completely different photographs. I was able to capture different shadows and depths, making the object appear different and unique. By simply changing your angle, using different light, or using both physical and digital manipulation, a photo can tell a completely different story; and depending on the audience it can come across as picturesque, beautiful, or both. Knowing how to create the story behind the picture, however, is the first step in creating beauty.  Using the techniques presented in “Nature Photography Tips” by Eddie Solo way helped me achieve a better understanding of photography. Learning how to use the camera as a form of art, lead me to discover a form of beauty that was before unrecognized. Price believed that those who study the various effects of form, colour, light, and shadows and can apply them in a more creative arrangement, can enjoy his own and all other scenery to a higher degree than those who cannot see outside the box or understand these principles of selection (Price). One innovative technique I used was digital manipulation of the object. I used technology to create a more modern interpretation of figure 3. I smoothed the photo and brightened the color to make it stand out and appear more beautiful. Before the manipulation the photo was in its “unimproved” state, according to Uvedale Price. After smoothing out the lines and improving it according to modern approval, the photo was no longer a representation of both the picturesque and beauty, but simply a smooth illustration of attractiveness. By editing out all of the imperfections I was able to create something beautiful, but not real or natural. This reiterates my belief that to achieve true beauty, an object will have both perfections and flaws. To capture the imperfections in the stone wall (Figure 5), I merely focused on the cracks and dimples that have been created over time and neglected by onlookers. According to Price this picture is defined as less obvious and less generally attractive. But these objects are sometimes the most beautiful. Hidden beauties are eye-catching because they are unique and rare. Finding beauty in the most unattractive of places is what makes the picturesque so intriguing. I believe that being able to capture the picturesque as well as things of attractiveness in the same shot gave me a better understanding of what is truly beautiful and how much I love the imperfections of everyday life.

In my eyes the imperfections of an object is what makes it truly beautiful. Prettiness is simply a façade that covers the flaws, scars, dents and cracks. Those blemishes, however, make it attractive. We are taught that no one and no thing is perfect, so why do we strive for perfection? Almost everyone, including myself, is guilty of wanting to be or trying to make something perfect; but we can’t and that’s the beauty of it. Just as these photos demonstrate, even the most beautiful of scenery is filled with imperfections. The rugged edges and bruised leaves only enhance the bright colors and intricate stone work. I truly believe that without ugliness there would be no beauty and vice versa. This is one of the reasons I found my pictures to be so intriguing. The opposing forces between the picturesque and beauty were very apparent in the natural photograph (Figure 1). I was inspired by the clean break that almost separated the two completely. This became my reasoning behind taking the photo, but after focusing on the pictures and exhausting every angle and shadow I truly saw the beauty that encompassed each photograph and fell in love with all its aspects. This assignment taught me that my idea of beauty had for a long time been skewed by media and society. Getting back to nature and witnessing organic beauty made me much more open to the imperfect aspects of our world. Flaws make up loveliness and embracing them creates beauty. This is not to say that beauty has to be imperfect, it is simply the idea that beauty doesn’t always have to be flawless. Seeing the raw edges of the stone or the not so perfect shape of the leaf made me realize that just as in these photographs, imperfections can be lovely and inspiring and truly beautiful. From this assignment I will take away the concepts of the picturesque and the sublime along with tips for how to take photos, but the most important thing I have learned is much bigger than that. Beauty is natural and real and full of flaws. Any creation is beautiful no matter how many blemishes it may have.

Everything around us encompasses beauty. The way that beauty is interpreted, however, depends on the onlooker. In my photos I developed my own ideas of beauty, the picturesque, and what I found to be sublime. Overall I was able to use the picturesque and the beautiful in a single photograph, while both connecting and contrasting the two concepts. Hardness and softness were used to create balanced photos that encompassed true beauty at its finest. With the use of different light, a variety of angles, and the use of manipulation, my beauty was created. I believe in being imperfect and focusing on objects that may have been neglected or knocked around. Having the ability to find treasure amongst imperfections is rare but inspiring. Overall finding your own beliefs is what life and beauty is all about.

Link to Prezi:


Work Cited

Gilpin, William. “On Picturesque Beauty.” Essay I. 1794. Sept. 14, 2012. Web. <;view=fulltext>

Burke, Edmund. “On the Sublime.” Part I, Sec. VII. 1747. Sept. 14, 2012. Web. <>

Price, Uvedale. “Essays on the Picturesque, as Compared With the Sublime and the Beautiful.” Preface. Sept. 14, 2012. Web. <>