What is Beauty? What is Ugly?
What is beauty?
They (you know, those they that say things) say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder…
… and when they say that we all tend to nod as though we know exactly what they mean, but what do they mean exactly?
If I see something beautiful, is it really beautiful or is there a beautiful speck in my eye causing an optical illusion?
They say that beauty is only skin deep, but then they also say that true beauty comes from within… they are a confusing bunch!
What is ugly?
Didn’t the ugly duckling turn into a beautiful swan? Wasn’t that a happy ending!
How did that make the other ducklings feel, I wonder… were they jealous, envious, did an inner ugly get stirred up like sediment on the bottom of a placid lake when a duck dives down and sticks its bill in it searching for food?
Humans can be very conflicted when it comes to the concepts of beauty and ugly. That type of conflicted can lead to conflict. Legend has it that we’ll even go to war over such things.
If I can’t have it, then neither can you!
We’re a confusing bunch, not unlike the they who are always saying things.
Speaking of people who says things…
… cue personal story…
I used to work in an art gallery in a city which sees itself as beautiful even though in certain ways it is rather ugly… but a beautiful kind of ugly or an ugly kind of beautiful.
One day, this couple came in…
I knew immediately that they were browsers rather than buyers. Mostly because of sexist reasons – sexism is an ugly thing, even though sometimes it is unfortunately accurate.
When you work in the art business you’re taught that male customers tend to be buyers, often on passionate impulse, but mostly they won’t bother coming in to the gallery just to browse, they won’t waste your time because they don’t want to waste their own time, they’re there because they you have something they want and they’re willing to pay for it to have it. Whereas female customers tend to be browsers, they may only have come into your art gallery because they’re killing time between appointments, business or otherwise, and they’re just enjoying the experience for the sake of it. They’re not wasting your time or theirs, they’re appreciating the different things you can do with time. If they buy anything they will make you work your ass off even if it is just something tiny and relatively inexpensive, from which you won’t earn a commission.
On the flip side, what this means is that women are viewed as being more frugal and thrifty financially than men (except apparently where shoes are concerned) – which isn’t a good thing if you work in the unnecessary luxury business. When you have a male and female come into the gallery, and they are a couple, if the women says – Let’s go home and think about this… – you haven”t made a sale and never will. She has decided this is not happening, but she’s being polite about it for the sake of consideration of everyone else’s ego. Or something like that.
I’ve worked in a shoe shop too. In the shoe shop business you’re taught that female customers tend to be repeat buyers, buying on passionate impulse, driven by fashion to spend, spend, spend on something they may only wear once if at all. Whereas male customers will try on every pair of shoes in the shop, and maybe decide none of them fit properly, if they do buy a pair of shoes, they will expect that pair to last them a lifetime.
Disclaimer: I haven’t been in those business in awhile, things may have changed. Please don’t shoot me, or if you do, please miss.
If a male and female come into the art gallery or shoe shop together, as a couple and united front, one of your jobs as a salesperson is to figure out which one is the Alpha in this particular scenario.
In the case of this couple who walked into the art gallery in which I worked, the female was the Alpha. She’d dragged her husband in with her, and he looked pained, he didn’t want to be there (because they’d done this before in other places and he knew what she was like). That information was so loud that it deafened even the casual observer.
She walked around looking at the artwork as though she was a scientist looking for a virus under a microscope. She had an attitude which wished it was a Ginzu knife. She was searching not for something to love, but for something to hate, and, luckily for her, she found it or this visit would have been a waste of her time.
She picked one painting, then smiled with leering satisfaction before adopting a look of shocked disapproval. This painting – of a semi-naked woman – was disgusting, obscene, and should be burned! The artist should not be allowed to paint such pornographic imagery! People should be protected from this kind of evil shit!
On and on and on she went, never once averting her eyes which grew wider with the length of her stare, masturbating herself into a climax of self-righteous indignation. While her husband just stood there with that look of someone hoping for something beautifully ugly to happen either to his wife or himself, anything just to end the onslaught of this experience. He wanted a hole to open up and swallow either him or her.
Are you at all wondering what I was doing during all of this?
I just stood there like a statue waiting for her diatribe to run its course – following my training which also and especially included that the customer is always right even if strictly speaking they aren’t a customer because they haven’t bought anything and you know they have no intention of ever buying anything.
I did fill my waiting time considering how long I’d have to be in jail for the crime of killing her and whether it was worth it. Her death was getting messier by the minute, and I’d probably have to pay for the clean-up costs too.
You see… the painting she was massacring with her artful hatistry was painted by my father, and although I didn’t like everything he painted, or even him sometimes… well, blood can surprise you with how thick it is particularly when it is faced with, and has thrown in its face, the vitriol of others.
This woman’s mouth spewed acid onto the painting defacing it. Somehow she managed to escape splashback…
And while she did that I watched myself just stand there, saying and doing nothing. Although I think I had an understanding smile plastered on my face, which made things worse.
For a moment it reminded me of all the times I had done that when the person spewing acid was one of my parents and the painting they were defacing was me. They also suffered no splashback…
I guess I was just too used to the ugliness of human nature to react to it in defense of preserving beauty.
However… I did eventually react. I simply said to this woman that art isn’t always meant to please, sometimes it is meant to provoke. And sometimes art is neutral until we look at it and project our own selves onto it. The provocation comes from within…
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder… then ugly is also in the eye of the beholder.
Yes… I did pretty much say to her that the ugliness she saw in the painting was her own reflected back at her. That the painting was disgusting, obscene and should be burnt on a pyre because… that was the state of her soul, her opinion of herself reflected back at her by what she saw in a thing that was just paint splattered on a canvas. The painting was empty, neutral, nothing, until she filled it with her special brand of ugly which only she could she because… she was special like that.
She made a hasty exit after that.
I did feel a bit bad for doing that, but I also felt good about it. Being conflicted… sometimes offers a moment of peace between warring factions.
I am very grateful to that woman for what she did. She opened my eyes to the beauty in ugly. My father had done that too – he could make a pile of actual garbage when seen through they eyes of an artist look like a bouquet of lowers when he painted it… but by the time I had that encounter with a harpy, he’d managed to make everything ugly, including beauty.
For a moment I made peace with him thanks to her hell.
For a moment I saw why he had become the way he was – he’d had too many encounters with people like that woman, they’d scarred him too deeply because they hit his wounds… and kept hitting them because they had wounds too which need a sacrifice of someone else’s blood. That type of person had made him hate those who loved his work. Had made him hate his work. Had made him hate himself and everything he did. He’d been exposed to more haters than lovers… or enough haters to make him lose sight of the lovers and see them as haters too.
They had made him the way he was not because anyone can make anyone else into something else, per se, but because… if some hits us where we are already hurt, they can kill us with a whisper, or more to the point, get us to self-destruct.
The human psyche is both complicated and fragile… once his was broken, it never recovered, it tried… but… the pull of destruction was greater than the draw of creation, and his creativity eventually became destructive… it went around breaking everything and everyone it touched. Like that woman.
Perhaps they don’t want to do it, but…
What is beauty… is it the triumph of the human spirit when everything is ugly?
What is ugly… is it when we sacrifice the human spirit for some notion of beauty?
What do you think?