Whether it’s a good-looking girl or boy, a colourful exotic bird, or an expertly arranged bouquet of flowers – we all love beauty. But shouldn’t ugliness be just as important?
We love beautiful images that take us away from the irregularity of the everyday to a transcendent place of purity and symmetry. But I think sometimes beauty is overrated, because it’s such a finite thing. Not just in the sense that all things will eventually decay, but in the sense that when something is beautiful it’s complete. There’s nothing for us to imagine adding or taking away. In essence it gets kind of boring.
Take beautiful faces for example. Since it’s symmetry that makes a universally acceptable beautiful face, when you look at enough typically beautiful faces they become pretty samey. By comparison the ugly, crude or grotesque suddenly becomes much more interesting and memorable.
And that’s one of many ways I think looking at art matters, because it can teach us that ugliness I just as beautiful a part of the human experience as beauty itself. In fact it’s more real to us.Take Picasso’s Weeping Woman (top) for example. It shows the ugliness of sadness but also its truth, which we all experience. And that ugly truth is beautiful in its own pure way.
Advertising bombards us with beauty all the time (and I’m not saying they are evil for doing this, since their objective is to sell stuff), but it’s kind of therapeutic to enjoy images of the hideous and flawed because it expresses something of who we are when we take a step back from the pressures of who we aspire to be and makes us feel better about our own flaws.
Like the majority of the world’s population, I haven’t gone through life blessed with model looks, and like so many young people it used to cut me up inside that I wasn’t as pretty, or as thin, or as noticeable as some of the other girls. So instead I focused on trying to be interesting and smart. While that doesn’t turn heads initially, I’ve learned that it does earn more respect in the long run, which matters to me far more. Where beauty creates an instant impression, the grotesque demands you to look closer and inspect, and question and yearn to understand. It has to grow on you.
It’s always good to remember that beauty isn’t everything, whether that goes for your own looks, the objects and people you surround yourself with or what you create in art, stories, poetry, films, photography or whatever medium you choose.
So stay unusual and make time for the wonky things in life. They’re usually so much more interesting. ☺