On Ugly Relatives

If beauty is relative to the beholder’s eye, where is the ugly held?

Nature beholds beauty — aesthetics, at the very least. It is beauty that attracts, to pair and sustain, whichever species, with a longer tail, a mane, a crown, a walk. 

The art world promotes the beauty and the ugly. One the one side, it claims to be based on expressions of beauty, and it does that with an extensive international agreement — Beaux Arts, Bellas Artes, Schöne Künste, all explicitly meaning arts of the beautiful, a term which seems more accurate (and inaccurate) than fine arts. And yet, a visual appreciation for the ugly is inherent in the eye of the artist, museums, and its individual viewers, whenever Arnulf Rainer, Max Neumann, Egon Schiele, Francis Bacon, or Pablo Picasso have finished a piece. Is it the thought, or is it the heart, being compelled to create eventual pieces for eternity, conveying distortion, and aestheticized disagreement, all the while Pierre-Auguste Renoir eternalized the small, quotidian beauty of women, children, gardens and boats, and Caspar David Friedrich chose the philosophical, monumental, and magnificent soothing?

The aesthetics phenomenon, a matter of physical and metaphysical taste, is not confined to the judgement of the beautiful and the ugly of visuals alone. The pleasing tonal sounds emanating through Barbara Streisand, Antonio Vivaldi, or Liberace, stand in contrast to the attraction we feel towards the atonality of Einstürzende Neubauten, AC/DC, or the twelve-tone realm of Arnold Schoenberg. When Mieskuoro Huutajat voices choral concepts, beauty is not the goal, as it has been for over five centuries for the Vienna Boys Choir (Wiener Sängerknaben).

Be it out of matters of the heart, or straight from the mind, a clear biological difference which remains spiritually cloudy, I perpetually find myself drawn to plenty of sights which give me as much joy, as the sight of beautiful gardens. Stained walls, ruins, incompletion, fermentation, incoherence.

The palate reveals the same contrast of polar choices. Eating strawberries, a ripe mango, and vanilla ice cream, is the beauty of sweetness. The pungent goat, Vieux Lille or blue cheese, and a peaty scotch, those demand from the beholder an acquired maturity in understanding the beauty of what is ugly.

Both ends of a spectrum appeal to sensations, sensualities, and impressions, none of which abide by specific aesthetics. On either end, deep joy and dopamine are obtained.

Is the ugly a mere deconstruction of beauty? Is the beholder, by reading the periphery, inherently set in a mode of wanting to understand and embrace more than the recognition of disagreeable lines, spaces and proportions? There seems to be an invisible bridge between the awe drawn at the sight of orchids, roses, lilies, and poppy fields, and the awe in the sudden presence of incompletion, filth, distortion, and incomprehension.

Building to the East side at the Paley Park, Manhattan, New York

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