How Beautiful Is Ugly?
As a painter I have lived my life in search of beauty. I have also been challenged to see beauty in the things that are ugly. As a young painter I was presented with works of art by a slew of artists exploring ugliness the most notable of which would probably Matthew Barney. Although he saw and presented his ugliness within beautiful surroundings. This was a new idea for me, but I liked it because it was a challenge. At first I did not like these ugly things. I would see the thoughts run through my mind immediately “Ugh, what the…?” That thought alone would challenge me to spend more time looking.
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Intentionally Looking for the Ugly
Eventually I began to seek this work out deliberately. I was a lazy artist so the idea of exploring ugliness was appealing. Because I saw it as easier, and I started to make a number of bad and ugly paintings. It is one thing to make a good ugly painting, but it is not the same to make a bad one, which I admit I did, and for quite some time I might add. It turned out making something ugly was just as difficult as making something beautiful. And if I wanted it to be good, it may be even more difficult.
At that time I was part of a community of painters and we would go paint together. Sometimes we would do portraits but when we did plain air painting, landscapes painted outdoors, I would get bored. Part of that had to do with what I would have called my laziness. I wanted to be in the landscape, interact with it, enjoy it. What I was trying to do at that moment was just see its beauty and recreate it. Interestingly the nature we call beautiful is not a singular thing. It is not a tree, or the sun. It is the light of the flora and fauna and ourselves, and our state at the time we see that beauty. It doesn’t care that it is beautiful. It, whatever we define “it” to be, has no idea of its beauty. We call it beautiful as a way of enjoying it for ourselves.
I have to say I don’t know if I do enjoy its beauty. I can recognize that it is stunning to be in that space. I can also see that I enjoy seeing it, or being a part of it but I don’t know when I lost, or if I ever had the thought “WOW, how beautiful!” Don’t get me wrong, obviously nature is beautiful. I see that every day. The issue is that I am only using the word “beautiful” there as a placeholder for a word that I may not know, or may not yet exist.
Ugly is another word I could use instead of beautiful, but that would cause a reader to think I had a negative reaction to the world around me, and that is not the case. I see the stars in the same way although again they are as they are. It is not that they hold some quality that is greater than something else, and that is what the word beautiful implies.
Words Label the Experience
It is great to see that we all possess that same beauty. And that we possess it as not only individuals but as a whole, just as nature and the world around us. That strength is there in that stillness. When we see it as beautiful, or even ugly, those words are helping us see ourselves.
Nature is us and it stands as itself. It is our experience of it that renders it into something needing a label, not because it wants one but because we do. If we feel a need to be, or be seen as beautiful it is because we are ugly. If we feel we are open it is because we are closed. And there are varying degrees to all of these things as well but it is important to note that we cannot hide from anything. We are here and no matter what happens we are going to have to be here at some point.
Nature is beyond beautiful and ugly,. I is beyond all labels. It is us and itself as we are ourselves and the entire universe. So how beautiful is nature? The answer to that will reflect the answer to the question, how beautiful are you?
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