Last week’s post, Can Images of War & Destruction Be Beautiful?, raised a number of interesting responses. There’s no question war is ugly, but I wanted to know if beauty be found in all that ugliness.
Writing the post and the feedback I received on it reminded me of one of my posts from a few years back. In it I asked whether ugliness could actually be a form of beauty. What I wrote then still resonates with me today — actually especially today — when we see so much ugliness around us. The election, in particular, has led to some very ugly statements, acts and responses. Do I condone them? No, but maybe they do offer us something positive in a way.
My post, All Hail Ugliness, shows how. Here’s what I wrote:
While I celebrate beauty, I also revel in ugliness. Why? Because ugliness isn’t a negation of beauty but another side of it.
Easy does it on the hallucinogens, you’re thinking. Let me explain.
I’m not here to declare what is beautiful or ugly. So much of these definitions are culturally and personally determined. Nevertheless, we all know beauty and ugliness when we see it, however we define it.
Yet, as Sara Halprin tells us in “Look at My Ugly Face!,” ugliness can be powerful. Ugliness isn’t a fixed state but a creative and transformative process that “offers riches to be mined.” While she points to various explanations of the role of ugliness, my favorite is this one: sourcing her thinking from ancient myths and current research as a psychologist, she says that being stripped of beauty is akin to being stripped of other societal expectations. Being ugly frees us! Many times people who have been maimed or sick, and therefore appear ugly to themselves, actually look at the world and their abilities in different ways. Being ugly opens up new doors and allows them to express new sides of themselves.
Ultimately, by being the other side of beauty, “ugliness” contains within itself the “spirit of beauty” she writes. Why? Because things of beauty force us to compare ourselves and our world to them. A simple example: when someone who lives in a worn down, beat up town full of dilapidated building sees a photograph of a town full of greenery, interesting architecture and culture, she can’t help but compare her town to this one. She will want something better, and hopefully find ways to satisfy her desire. Ultimately they can inspire, enlighten and push us to ask ourselves questions, like “is this all there is?” or “could things be better?” Ugliness, as I pointed out above, also inspires us to access or express different sides of ourselves and, ultimately, pushes us forward.
Back to today’s election season, we’ve certainly seen some ugly things. And they downright disgust and scare me. But they do motivate me, offer me a new perspective and in a way, inspire me. These ugly words forced me to discuss issues around entitlement, misogyny and prejudice with my friends and family. They compelled meet to write about them in this blog. They drew my attention towards problems I am fortunate enough not to experience, like sexual harassment. And they made me care that much more about who governs us. While ugliness may not uplift me, it can teach me something, offer a new perspective, and sometimes even push me to act. So, yes, ugliness can be beautiful.
But in the end, I don’t think we should strive for ugliness. In the words of Alec Baldwin, as he stepped out of his Donald Trump character in yesterday’s SNL, “I hate yelling at you all the time… don’t you feel gross because of this?” Let’s aim for beauty, love and peace.