When we create art, we tend to try to create beauty, don’t we?
We make a mistake, and suddenly it’s not art anymore: it’s an accident, a mess-up, a mistake, a problem, a blemish.
We hate that word. Don’t we? Ugly makes our ears ring and our brains wince. We squint our eyes to try and block it out, turn up our noses and turn down our senses so we don’t realize it’s there.
What is so foul and evil about ugly that we treat it as an outcast and a grotesque figure of all that is opposite of beautiful.
There’s the catch.
You see… ugly and beautiful aren’t the antonyms we think they are. In fact, they can be synonymous.
A Fact Check
Before you attempt to pull out your dictionary, clear your throat, and look over your reading glasses at me, let me clear one thing up: I know that standard knowledge and definition point to beauty and ugliness as two opposites. Therefore, they must be antonyms and must not be synonyms, right?
I get it.
But you know what? Let’s ignore the dictionary for a moment.
There’s something about our interpretations of the beauty and ugliness of life that doesn’t seem to fit the definitions in our minds and in our books. We’ve twisted them – much like all words in a language twist over time – into something much deeper. That’s what I want to explore. The theme of “beautiful ugliness”.
Synonyms in Life
There’s nothing wrong with desiring beauty. It’s okay for you want your art to be beautiful, whatever sort of art it is. However… why not ugliness, too?
There’s a certain poignancy to ugliness, to a crude drawing or a smudge painting or a piece of pottery that’s crooked and cracked. There’s something visceral about a squeaked note on a violin, the dull rumble of feedback in a microphone pointed at an upright bass. Our guts clench at the intimacy that ugliness brings.
Somehow, the ugly resonates with us just as much – if not more – than the beauty. It sticks with us, rings hollowly in our ears for long after the original sound vanishes.
Can you remember the last movie you watched that you disliked?
I know I can. I can remember distinctly the last movie I watched that I felt was… ugly. I found it had poor writing, poor editing, poor acting, and poorly executed themes.
We remember the ugly just as much as we remember the beauty. I can remember clearly the wondrous view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building, but just as clearly I can remember the homeless man with the rabid look in his eye and the curse upon his lip as he stumbled through the crowd clutching at his torn coat.
Here’s the deal: we’re surrounded by both beauty and ugliness. They blend together so well that it’s hard to tell where one stopped and one began. Where does artistic beauty become artistic ugliness?
I’ve found that ugliness is not a synonym for beauty. In fact, the two words applied to art (especially the art of living) are completely unrelated to one another. Rather, ugliness in art is a portrayal of negative emotions, beauty is a portrayal of positive emotions. That is, from a creator’s point of view, creating ugliness is portraying emotions with inspire negative reactions. Not always bad negative reactions, but emotions that people associate negatively with, like fear and anger and sadness and lies and so on. Creating beauty, on the other hand, inspires positive reactions: joy, peace, contentment, wonder, truth.
As one who experiences art, ugliness is what inspires negative emotions and beauty is what inspires positive emotions. This is where the more “dictionary-esque” definitions start to bleed into the discussion.
Art creates in us emotions: beauty brings positive emotions, ugliness brings us bad emotions.
Which is better?
Ugliness or beauty?
It’s our natural inclination to lean toward beauty. After all, we like to be happy and we enjoy peace and we’d rather not be filled with sadness or abhorrence.
Why can’t we have both?
Truly experiencing art isn’t just about feeling one thing. Art isn’t just about beauty or just about ugliness. It’s about weaving together the truths of reality, the truths of an artistic life by combining the harsh realities of ugliness and the wistful hope of beauty.
It’s about pulling from both side of the “divide” and allowing negative and positive emotions to blend together to the point where it’s hard to see where ugliness ends and beauty begins.