(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘ugliness

“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…

 

ernst_ludwig_kirchner_-_czardas_dancers_-_google_art_project

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, CZARDAS DANCERS, 1908

 

Ugliness has never been the subject of much scrutiny. For the most part, artists and thinkers have treated ugliness as an immutable category, filled with things they simply didn’t like. These included dangerous landscapes, people with disabilities, and objects that showed signs of too much use. When survival was a number one priority, people viewed anything potentially threatening as ugly. And for the most part, ugly works, particularly pieces that were unintentionally ugly, were forgotten to history.

As a result, the most significant ugly works created before the nineteenth century were intentionally ugly, created by technically skilled painters who decided, for whatever reason, to depict an ugly subject. Often, ugly art was created as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I, screams the gargoyle clinging to a medieval facade. To contemporary eyes, the art of the Dark Ages looks ugly as a whole (consider this great Vox explainer about ugly babies in medieval paintings.) At the time, however, people didn’t consider the malformed dogs or awkward hat-wearing crows to be ugly, though they did know that doom paintings, which depict the worst-case afterlife scenarios, were hideous. Doom paintings highlight the difference between heaven and hell in order to strike fear into the heart of viewers and thus discourage them from, say, coveting their neighbor’s hot spouse or lying when the tax official came around to collect coins. Sometimes these paintings function like the medieval version of Jonathan Edward’s hellfire-and-brimstone sermons: they actually make the afterlife look interesting, stimulating, and perhaps even a little bit appealing…

A consideration of the less-than-beautiful in Western art through the ages: “Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”  -Marquis de Sade

(Echoed by Umberto Eco: “Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.”)

###

As we agonize over aesthetics, we might spare a thought for Lucas van Leyden; he died on this date in 1533.  A seminal Dutch artist, he was among the first Dutch exponents of genre painting and is generally regarded as a very accomplished engraver.

220px-Durer-Lucas-Van-Leyden

A portrait of Lucas van Leyden by Albrecht Dürer, June 1521

source

 

 

Written by LW

August 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…

 

Oskar Kokoschka – “Prometheus Triptych” (left hand panel)

source

What’s the ugliest
Part of your body?
What’s the ugliest
Part of your body?
Some say your nose
Some say your toes
(I think it’s your mind)
But I think it’s YOUR MIND

Frank Zappa

… Art holds up a mirror to shifting attitudes. Initial tags of ‘ugly’ sometimes get forgotten as once-derided subjects become valued. Impressionism of the 19th century – now featured in blockbuster exhibits – was initially compared to mushy food and rotting flesh. When Henri Matisse’s works showed in the US at the Armory Show of 1913, critics lambasted his art as ‘ugly’, while art students in Chicago burned an effigy of his Blue Nude in front of the Art Institute. The same institution mounted a major retrospective of his work a century later. Jazz and rock’n’roll were once considered ‘ugly’ music, threatening to corrupt entire generations.

In the face of ‘ugly’ slurs, some artists embraced the word. The painter Paul Gauguin called ugliness ‘the touchstone of our modern art’. The poet and translator Ezra Pound encouraged a ‘cult of ugliness’. The composer Charles H H Parry praised ugliness in music, without which ‘there would not be any progress in either social or artistic things’. The critic Clement Greenberg lauded Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism as ‘not afraid to look ugly – all profoundly original art looks ugly at first’…

From Gretchen Henderson‘s essay “The history of ugliness shows that there is no such thing.”  And for artist Oskar Kokoschka’s thoughts, see “On Making Ugly Art.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”
― Marquis de Sade

###

As we gaze into our mirrors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1852 that “Uncle Sam” first appeared as a cartoon figure in the New York Lantern weekly newspaper.  Thomas Nast, the famed Harpers cartoonist who created the political party mascots and Santa Claus, is widely– but incorrectly– credited with creating the Uncle Sam archetype.  While Nast certainly helped create the modern impression of the character, and popularize it, he was just 12 years old when the original cartoon appeared.  It was the creation of Frank Bellew.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: