In a recent video, the host of VSauce (a fantastic little video log focusing on scientific questions that often do and don’t matter) asked a fantastic question; what determines cute? What makes a thing cuter than others? The answer turned out to be one of comparison to babies (Who have certain visual triggers in them that seem to trigger in human beings a sense of “Awwwwww…….), including large eyes, bigger foreheads, smaller bodies, and so forth.
What’s interesting is how these sense came about, is the language used to describe “Cuteness”. Cuteness originates etymologically from the word “acute”, which is apparently used as just a synonym for “pretty”.
But what do we judge pretty on? It’s just another word of the modern day, like “Zany” and “interesting” One theorist thinks there’s a deeper understanding of aesthetics underneath that. Sianne a Sianne Ngai, an author and Professor of Aesthetics (of the appearance of things) at Stanford, published an interesting question in an interview with Cabinet Magazine:
To call something cute, in vivid contrast to, say, beautiful, or disgusting, is to leave it ambiguous whether one even regards it positively or negatively. Yet who would deny that cuteness is an aesthetic, if not the dominant aesthetic of consumer society?
It’s interesting to see how cuteness is a modern-day standard of aesthetic. It certainly explains away our obsession with cats (though why one would so much time with that is well beyond me).
But this brings up a question; how does cute correlate to issues of beauty? Historically, philosophers have always sought out something that made man unique; the thing that gave man access to “The Good, the True, and the Beautiful”. But modern-day circles, there are a lot of questions to ask about this, since the idea of cute is an idea that was only recently developed. So, does the distraction of the cute derive from the value of beauty?
Part of me wishes to say yes, since they both involve responses to aesthetically visual properties. But on the other side, we have the noticable biological attributes, that the consistent definition of cute is often connected to the attributes of younger infants. So, which is it?
I’d love to get your opinion on this topic! Comment below, and throw me an email. Would love to chat with ya!