Blesok no. 35, March-April, 2004
Beautiful and ugly are usually understood as two opposites: beautiful is not ugly, and ugly is not beautiful. When people should decide upon something, they usually take the beautiful and reject the ugly. Esthetically, beautiful is defined as what is pleasing the senses. Thus, as the opposite to beautiful, ugly is the thing that does not please the senses. Those who love the beautiful encounter the ugly just to avoid it, or to create beauties confronting with the ugliness.
Still, the world is not so two-sided. Most things are neither only beautiful, nor only ugly. The beautiful in which there is not a single trace of ugliness is called gorgeous. The ugly that is completely deprived of beauty is considered horrible. Life mostly moves between the gorgeous and horrible. Beauty participates with the ugly ones as well; ugliness often joins beautiful things. For example, some ugly phenomena involve beautiful elements that make them acceptable. The bearable ugly is named unattractive. On the other hand, certain beautiful things also posses ugly segments, which, though noticeable, are still far from endangering the dominance of beautiful. What is beautiful with an insignificant participation of ugly is considered pretty or appealing. Handsome or elegant are obtained by subtle refining of the most beautiful forms. Cute and sweet mostly reside in the middle between beautiful and ugly.
Ergo, there are many things that are partially ugly: some of their components are not likeable to the senses. The world knows successful show-business creatures that are unpleasant to all senses. Popularity and wealth of these creatures shows that their ugliness was massively surpassed, and they moved from the dump of despicable to the area of adored. Experience equally shows that besides ample possibilities of choice, many persons choose for a spouse a person that is far from the esthetic ideal. Scary or repulsively ugly animals are often kept as pets. Throughout the history, art managed to enshrine some very ugly persons. All of these cases demonstrate some absolving of the ugliness. We will shortly describe this process.
First of all, we question the artistic relevance of psychological identification. The truth is that the glory of pointless and unarticulated is mainly due to the fact that the mass of admirers also has the same disorientation. Said in Plato’s way, the ugly rejoices the beautiful. It is true that every man can recognize in the overall ugliness the bit of ugliness he has himself, and sympathize it with the energy of self-love. Still, the acceptance of the un-esthetic things has no legitimate explanation in the opinion that “they are ugly but ours”. Even when it would be so, our ugliness would remain inferior before our beauties, and we would tend to replace them with them.
In the explanation of the acceptability of the ugly, the identification mechanism is often empirically denied. The owners of French bulldogs usually do not look like their pets. Except sometimes with self-portraits, painters usually do not look like their models; spouses too are far from being identical. Consequently, the acceptability of ugly can not remain a psychological identification. The esthetics of ugly has many other resources that we could group in three comprehensive classes. The first one consists of the criticism of the prejudices of our sense predisposition.
For the pre-critical subjectivity, ugly is what causes aversion. But, can the senses not err? Let’s say that the city smog is not liked by the senses of taste and smell. Senses are then right: technical gasses stink awfully, they are poisonous and they suffocate. On the other hand, the provisional esthetics of man often disqualifies the members of other races of animal species. All the people of races other than our own at first look the same and ugly; – with further communication we see that they are neither the same, nor ugly. Lack of knowledge in cynology makes no difference between a Doberman and a Labrador, Rothweiler and Newfoundlander. This equalization is natural for the one who is scared to even look at dogs. Bigger culture is more capable of admitting individuality.
Shortly, there are cases when the shallow conclusion of the ugly is cancelled with an adequate cultivation of senses. The reconsideration acknowledges that we have given the wrong diagnosis: what seemed ugly really contained beauty that we (because of some habits or frustrations) were not ready to see. We found the aquarium catfish turacatum ugly; – later we saw that it was brilliant. At least ten percent of the faces that we saw painted and we considered ugly, in time became beautiful. This happened after we get rid of the limitations that obstructed our comprehension of the immanent advantages of the observed.
The treacherousness of senses has numerous applications; – here we can not list every one of them. Besides, independently from the receptive benevolence of the subject – some things do not experience a strict sense rejection of the quality of ugliness. Accepting the un-esthetic things shows that man is not senses, but also a spirit and a soul. The second type of overcoming the ugliness consists of its appropriate contextualization. This procedure is easier than the process of self-perfecting of the esthetic taste because the subject does not have to overcome the stale customs of his senses; – it is enough to understand the omnipresent examples.
Take into consideration the bones, muscles, blood vessels and fat glands of a beautiful actress. Outside the context, these elements are very ugly. But, inside the actress’s body, they can be remarkably composed, and her beauty is literally a result of the complex activity of ugly things. Harmony is omnipotent. In an adequate apartment, event the so-called “boxer” can look beautiful, especially because this dog would have the esthetics that no other object or creature in the home has. The importance of measure can be seen in the fact that an apartment with five adult “boxers” would not be five times more beautiful, but uglier.
In principle, the true locations of the ugly things are those where beauties would be degraded. But the simple marginalization of the ugly entities leaves but a simple impression. Art needs more complex composition undertakings. Not losing the sense for the wholeness of the art work, the painter regularly undertakes intuitive sophistications of the ugly that (depending on the precision of the work) sometimes go to the microstructure itself. Against the mysteriousness of the syntagm “intuitive sophistications”, we would say that they are not the monopoly of great art, but part of the everyday. For example, they appear as a subconscious psychologization by which people close to us seem at the same time exceptionally beautiful. Still, there is something more in these cases.
This is the third group of means for handling the ugly. Then, the ugly is recognized as such; – its role of contrast is also not necessary. Once the ugly has other qualities as well, they can occur as an overpowering compensation. The best painting confirmation of this is probably the self-portraits of Van Gogh.
It is jokingly said that Van Gogh was so ugly that cutting his ear did not change his image at all. It is a rude and unbecoming joke; it is improper to prove that he was ugly. It is obvious that Van Gogh did not attempt to paint himself as a handsome man. Although his famous self-portraits were made in a short period, they are all significantly different among themselves and they have their individual lives. But in none of these paintings did the artist tend to surpass the ugly with the help of the beautiful. Tense self-portraits show thoughtfulness, seriousness, concentration, focus close to egocentrism, dignified martyrdom, human impression, dedication, tragedy, significance… The painter’s realizations these qualities shows that the imposing estheticism can be fully surpassed by deeper artistic values. The ugly remains a noble material for the philosophy of art. As far as the art of painting itself is concerned, it is not directly threatened by the ugly; – the danger of pointless and idealess if much bigger.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska