The recent Washington Post article about the 10 Year Anniversary Washington Glass School exhibition at Long View Gallery brings up notions of beauty - where critic Michael O'Sullivan questions if contemporary art must be ugly - if only to be less superficial - had me looking into what defines beautiful - or at least the "culturally conditioned concept of beauty".
Philosophy professor Denis Dutton (and the editor of Arts & Letters Daily) suggests that humans are hard-wired to seek beauty. In this TED talk on the notion of beauty, Prof Dutton collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate his theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.
Robert Pirsig delved into similar concepts in his 1974 book Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance . But certainly there's more to it these days than just appreciation of well made things. Or understanding of value connectedness or whatever it was that Pirsig described. More so than ever these days, higher value is placed upon appreciation of things that make the patron/viewer feel special, smart, successful. Its the reason we like challenging & complicated works of art, with symbolism, context and references that invite us to figure them out. (Challenging, but not too challenging that we can't figure it out.) Its valued more when there is a bit of work or effort invested.