Three Twenty One


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? So should go ugly, I presume.

While most people are used to getting gratification from an aesthetically beautiful piece of work, I think there is a different sort of pleasure to be had from something that is purposefully ugly. Sometimes, in creating something artistic, I tend towards a kind of elegant ugliness. The things I like about ugliness are that it isn’t as accessible as beauty and it also offers a unique perspective on the topic I am discussing.

Accessibility is not a bad thing, of course, but I feel it often leads the viewer to a simpler reading when the work could actually be very complex. In this painting by Albert Bierstadt, it’s easy to see the beauty in his composition and color, but there is more going on. Bierstadt’s paintings provided a glimpse of the West before most Americans knew much about it. His point of view predisposed his audience to a romanticized version of the Wild West, creating false notions that life out there was idyllic and serene. In reality, it was dangerous and unchartered. [a]

On the flip side, ugliness does not automatically mean complexity – I would point you to the trollface meme as evidence – but ugliness does provide an argument for something. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the very act of finding beauty in ugliness is already making you think of beauty in a different way.

Okay, now for the real reason I wrote this post: I want to complain about how difficult it is to pull of elegant ugly! Creating something successfully is hard no matter what, and the working process can get, ahem, ugly. I find that it is harder to convince people you have something when it doesn’t look pretty while you are working on it. I suppose the real problem is that a work-in-progress is always shaky until you get it right, but I was always frustrated by people dismissing an idea when the real truth was that I hadn’t developed it completely yet.

Anyway, that’s a whiny accusation, forgive me. Do you like ugly? What is a good example? Annie Clark of St. Vincent does a good job playing with ugly in her music. And visit one of my favorite blogs, I’m Revolting, for some excellent examples of elegant ugly.

[1] Head of a Man/Diego (Lust 155) by Alberto Giacometti, 1961
[2] Looking Down Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt, 1865


2 comments on “Ugly

  1. thedailymonty
    June 26, 2012

    It’s funny, I was just talking with my sister about this the other day- she’s an aspiring artist, and she likes to make things that are “ugly”.
    I like to think that “ugly” works of any form try to get viewers/listeners/etc to find some meaning or beauty in their chaos, the order in the disorder. I appreciate that because it feels more “real” to me.


    • Shirley
      June 28, 2012

      I agree, it does feel more “real” somehow. Maybe because it isn’t afraid to approach the truth and only show the non-pretty side of things? Interesting that your sister consciously takes this approach!


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This entry was posted on June 25, 2012 by in Art, Music.

Stuff I said before

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