Ugliness as Therapy
by Will Nediger & Gerry Fialka May 2019 https://laughtears.com/ droppingkeys.html
Fascism so often displays an obsession with beauty – think of the “Festival of Beauty” in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, or the classical simplicity of the architecture of the Mussolini era. Beauty is the white elephant, ugliness is the termite – the corrective against the hegemonic power of beauty.
“All profoundly original art looks ugly at first,” wrote Clement Greenberg. Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings champions the power of ugly emotions like envy and irritation to threaten the artistic status quo. Frank Zappa (who asked “What’s the ugliest part of your body?”) proclaimed: “If you’re out there and you’re cute, maybe you’re beautiful, I just want to tell you somethin’ – there’s more of us ugly mother-fuckers than you are, hey-y, so watch out.”
How does our pursuit of beauty increase the desire for ugliness? What are the hidden psychic effects of ugliness as an artistic therapy for the damaged psyche of the current era? How can ugliness avoided being transformed into an officially sanctioned beauty, and remain ugly, not just at first, but perpetually? How can ugliness resist what Marx called the power of money? (Marx: “I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money… I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored and hence its possessor… Does not all my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?”)
Our collective aims to invent new questions and metaphors, and probe the creation of some genuinely ugly art.
++++The above proposal is for a submission to JOAAP and is a workshop description.++++

FROM: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest < editors@joaap.org >
Subject: calls for submission: 'Culture beside itself', issue # 11/participatory research
With joy and knowledge of the work before us...
we invite you to participate in an investigation of culture beside itself.
an anti-fascist and avant garde question.
This is;a call for participatory research
as an invitation for you to research something collectively, beside us
as a submission call for autonomously and collectively edited documents(1, 2, or 4 pages)
these documents, first to be distributed by you locally, in the newsletter form*
on the topic discussed below…under the project focus, rationale and analysis headings below.
…the compendium of these newsletters which will make up the bulk of our 11th issue.
For more information, see below or checkout the project/issue website here .
Though we will be considering rolling deadlines up until the final completion date, we ask you to email us at:
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In your email, please breifly describe:
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Frank Zappa sang "the ‘ugliest part of your body’ is not your nose or your toes but ‘your mind’...and..."So many ugly people. I feel bad. I'm so cute. They're so homely. Some of them. At home 'n lonely. Wish they could be. Very cute like me." ...and ..."I've something to say to all you beautiful people out there; there is an awful lot more of us ugly mother f****** than there are of you". "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" - FZ QUESTION
FZ taught us to embrace contradiction:
Frank Zappa: “ So the question is, what do you do with your spare time until you're a cinder? And the answer is, you do whatever you can that makes your particular life more beautiful, and you get involved in art. 'Cause that's what makes things beautiful .”
https://www.afka.net/Articles/ 1984-00_Ecolibrium_Interviews. htm

Zappa albums have bannered such thought provoking slogans as "Kill Ugly Radio."

Something else that might be interesting is Sianne Ngai's book Ugly Feelings (Wiki description below). I like all these ideas but I'm not exactly sure how we should package them for the issue proposal (probably some kind of political angle would make sense, given the description).

In her book Ugly Feelings, Sianne Ngai constructs a theoretical framework for analyzing and mobilizing affective concepts and presents a series of studies in the aesthetics of negative emotions, examining their politically ambiguous work in a range of cultural artifacts produced in what Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer refer to in their text, Dialectic of Enlightenment , as the ‘fully administered world of late modernity' [3]
Envy, irritation, paranoia—in contrast to powerful and dynamic negative emotions like anger, these non-cathartic states of feeling are associated with situations in which action is blocked or suspended. In her examination of the cultural forms to which these affects give rise, Sianne Ngai suggests that these minor and more politically ambiguous feelings become all the more suited for diagnosing the character of late modernity.
Each of the feelings explored in the book- envy, anxiety, paranoia, irritation - and Ngai’s two new categories of negative affect - "animatedness" and "stuplimity" mobilizes the aesthetics of ugly feelings to investigate not only ideological and representational dilemmas in literature—with a particular focus on those inflected by gender and race—but also blind spots in contemporary literary and cultural criticism. [

The topic of ugliness is intriguing - have you seen Marco Ferreri's The Ape Woman, based on the story of Julia Pastrana?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame_( 1939_film) gets deep into "ugly" and the printing press,
and the mcluhan line we shape our tools then they shape us came outta winston churchill
says we shape our bldgs then they shape us

https://frieze.com/article/ good-bad-and-ugly-1
https://arthistory.uchicago. edu/faculty/publications/ aesthetics-ugliness
In reviewing Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life by biographer Jens Andersen, British journalist Anne Chisholm writes “Andersen himself was a tall, ugly boy with a big nose and big feet, and when he grew up with a beautiful singing voice and a passion for the theater he was cruelly teased and mocked by other children". The ugly duckling is the child of a swan whose egg accidentally rolled into a duck's nest. [6]
Speculation suggests that Andersen was the illegitimate son of Prince Christian Frederik (later King Christian VIII of Denmark ), and found this out some time before he wrote the book, and then that being a swan in the story was a metaphor not just for inner beauty and talent but also for secret royal lineage. [7]
Bruno Bettelheim observes in The Uses of Enchantment that the Ugly Duckling is not confronted with the tasks, tests, or trials of the typical fairy tale hero. “No need to accomplish anything is expressed in “The Ugly Duckling”. Things are simply fated and unfold accordingly, whether or not the hero takes some action.” In conjunction with Bettelheim’s assessment, Maria Tatar notes in ’’The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen’’ that Andersen suggests that the Ugly Duckling‘s superiority resides in the fact that he is of a breed different from the barnyard rabble, and that dignity and worth, moral and aesthetic superiority are determined by nature rather than accomplishment. [1] "The Ugly Duckling" ( Danish : Den grimme ælling) is a literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875). The story tells of a homely little bird born in a barnyard who suffers abuse from the others around him until, much to his delight (and to the surprise of others), he matures into a beautiful swan , the most beautiful bird of all. The story is beloved around the world as a tale about personal transformation for the better. [1] “The Ugly Duckling” was first published 11 November 1843
David Crystal is a British linguist and author who studied English at University College London. He wrote a lot of books about languages and how to learn them. “There is no such thing as an ugly accent, like there’s no such thing as an ugly flower.
The world, to Hafiz, is an enigma which is inconceivable to the wise and unwise alike: “Of minstrels and of wine discourse; care little how the skies revolve:/By wisdom no one has solved yet and shall not this enigma solve.” No living being has the capacity to 'lift the veil' and say 'who is ugly or who is fair.' Hafiz believes that under the azure vault of the heaven, no one is allowed to despair of God's mercy and no one is allowed to steal another's hope for Divine Clemency “Never of Eternal Mercy preach that I must yet despair;/Canst thou pierce the veil, and tell me who is ugly, who is fair?” This feeling of arrogance is per se a sin in the creed of Hafiz. The zealot eschews the pleasures of life and wallows in his hidebound beliefs. It is he who despairs Man of the Divine Grace and draws him into a vortex of blind prejudice: “Never of Eternal Mercy preach that I must yet despair;/Canst thou pierce the veil, and tell me who is ugly, who is fair?”

Gary Snyder read “A Berry Feast,” an ode in praise of Coyote, a trickster figure from Native American myth: “Coyote the Nasty, the fat / Puppy that abused himself, the ugly gambler, / Bringer of goodies.” The poem, which traces the destruction of forests to the building of the suburban house—“a box to catch the biped in”—is infused with the Buddhist idea of impermanence. It forecasts a time of “People gone, death no disaster,” and ends with Coyote surveying a depopulated city where resilient nature still thrives—“Dead city in dry summer, / Where berries grow.”

Lew Welch wrote about nature: “It is all that goes on whether we look at it or not. All-that-goes-on-whether-we- look-at-it-or-not will always go on (though we almost never look at it) and we are in it, in this form, for a little while at least.” He didn’t see eye-to-eye with Carl Sandburg on Chicago: “The land’s too flat. Ugly sullen and big it / pounds men down past humbleness.”

Kaku described his belief eloquently: "I would say that I lean toward the God of Einstein and Spinoza; that is, a God of harmony, simplicity and elegance, rather than a personal God who interferes in human affairs," Kaku muses. "The universe is gorgeous, and it did not have to be that way. It could have been random, lifeless, ugly; but instead, is full of rich complexity and diversity." NEGATIVE ENERGY = UGLY ??????

Marx: "I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness — its deterrent power — is nullified by money. … I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored and hence its possessor. … Does not all my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?"

Duchamp: "the message of Fountain was one of mockery: of modern ideals of art. It mocked, not by parodying fine art, but by being its stark opposite: uncrafted by the author, ugly, utilitarian, vulgar, ubiquitous, and so on."

Animals have come to mean so much in our lives. We live in a fragmented and disconnected culture. Politics are ugly, religion is struggling, technology is stressful, and the economy is unfortunate. What's one thing that we have in our lives that we can depend on? A dog or a cat loving us unconditionally, every day, very faithfully.
- Jon Katz

Urie Bronfenbrenner, professor of psychology at Cornell University. "The children [on the show] are charming. Among the adults there are no cross words, no conflicts, no difficulties, nor, for that matter, any obligations or visible attachments," he says. "The old, the ugly or the unwanted is simply made to disappear through a manhole." http://content.time. com/time/subscriber/article/0, 33009,943327-5,00.html

other references:
Beauty defines itself as the antithesis of the ugly. Obviously, you can’t say something is beautiful if you’re not willing to say something is ugly. But there are more and more taboos about calling something, anything, ugly. (For an explanation, look first not at the rise of so-called “political correctness,” but at the evolving ideology of consumerism, then at the complicity between these two.)


small a art is always the real artistic role offering perception; new art is always ugly, real small a art. The thing that offers perception is not there to make money: the guy's got a problem, the artist has a problem, and he's trying to figure out something, so he paints it, or he does something, traditionally. And then it might be successful, but we know of countless people who were heavy artists that no one ever heard of, so small a art is not based on commerce. Especially today when the machines NEED content and they need shock and they need that traditional role of the artist--what the small a artist did--that's already inside a commercial monster.
So art, the words "small a" and "capital a" art--what I'm trying to show is what the new small a art is--and it's definitely not commercial--but I can't rely on the traditional form of small a art, with being non-commercial, because all of that gets appropriated, as history has shown. The Dadaists--there was big money made out of the Dadaists--or any fringe person now, Rothman's is probably sponsoring them. The point is, we've disappeared; there's no cultural, human, fucking artistic way of dealing with this. So, the more you deal with that, just reacquainting yourself with that question--'cause you might get the insight from me tonight, or from reading "Entertainment Sucks," but you're going to forget about it, because the mind has to process new stuff--you just have to keep going back to it, and getting stronger at how to see the question.
So I claim that I've figured out how to do it--how to BE a small a artist, and if I could make a capital a art out of it, that's not even an issue; I could, but it doesn't solve the problem we're in. And most famous people, they end up living in New York because they want to live, and they can be anonymous there and get on with their life, doing and learning that they want to do. And they've got a lot of money, so they can afford to live there. But there's so many disservices today for people that being rich doesn't protect you from these things--if you're responsible. You know, someone could make a lot of money and just be stoned all the time, and they're gonna die anyway, so they're not in the game. So in the world of the game and maintaining awareness, it's a tougher situation to do, and success doesn't help you.- Robert DOBBS http:// rockcriticsarchives.com/ interviews/bobdobbs/01.html

“Some of it is ugly, obscene and bestial, some of it is pure and holy and spiritual: all of it is myself.” ― James Joyce, Selected Letters

Roger Nyle Parisious says:
I have had similar stories from two separate sources in two countries.
Arthur Power(“My Conversations With Joyce” ) remembered one of those “You take ’em ,Hemingway,you take’em” incidents with Joyce who was mostly blind insulting the ugliest guy at the bar and then throwing them back on Hemingway.By the way,Arthur(whose uncollected writings and memoirs I am preparing for publication) really cared about Joyce and disliked Hemingway.There was no malice in this.

Abe Lincoln: "God may not like ugly, but he sure loves ugly people!" and “The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.”

Frank Zappa sang "the ‘ugliest part of your body’ is not your nose or your toes but ‘your mind’...and..."So many ugly people. I feel bad. I'm so cute. They're so homely. Some of them. At home 'n lonely. Wish they could be. Very cute like me." ...and ..."I've something to say to all you beautiful people out there; there is an awful lot more of us ugly mother f****** than there are of you". "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" - FZ QUESTION
FZ taught us to embrace contradiction:
Frank Zappa: “ So the question is, what do you do with your spare time until you're a cinder? And the answer is, you do whatever you can that makes your particular life more beautiful, and you get involved in art. 'Cause that's what makes things beautiful .”

"You don't cut off your nose to spite your face - that's too easy - instead, you should succumb to ugliness rather than win false mastery over it. Silence must be attained by sheer force of will, not cheap mechanics. A blowfish inflates to frighten enemies that it cannot defeat in one-on-one combat. A body swells death, as if proud." - Mike Kelley

We’re taught that things are beautiful and ugly, and that in the case of music, for instance, through European influence, you’re taught not to have parallel fifths or par­allel octaves, not to have certain dissonances unless you prepare them properly, and so forth and so on. And we gradually in modern music have found that that’s all nonsense, so that the situation actually of a modern composer was not so much a distinguishing between beautiful and ugly—because almost anything has been accepted as beautiful in the twentieth century already—but to find some, actually some reason for de­voting one’s life to music. Why would one do that? - John Cage

After living in the remote countryside of Ireland all his life, an old Irishman decided it was time to visit Dublin. In one of the stores, he picks up a mirror and looks into it. Not ever having seen a mirror before, he remarked at the image staring back at him. 'How 'bout that! he exclaims, 'Here's a picture of my Fadder.' He bought the mirror thinking it was a picture of his dad, but on the way home he remembered his wife didn't like his father, so he hung it in the shed, and every morning before leaving to go fishing, he would go there and look at it. His wife began to get suspicious of his many trips to the shed. So, one day after her husband left, she went to the shed and found the mirror. As she looked into the glass, she fumed, 'So that's the ugly bitch he's running around with.'

https://aeon.co/ideas/the- history-of-ugliness-shows- that-there-is-no-such-thing In the 19th century, a hirsute aboriginal woman from Mexico named Julia Pastrana was billed on the freak-show circuit as ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’. Brought to Europe, she performed according to Victorian norms: singing and dancing, speaking in foreign languages, undergoing public ‘Ugly’ is usually meant to slander, but in recent decades, aesthetic categories have been treated with growing suspicion. ‘We cannot see beauty as innocent,’ writes the philosopher Kathleen Marie Higgins, when ‘the sublime splendor of the mushroom cloud accompanies moral evil.’ Debates gain traction as the world changes, as ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ meanings slip and slide. In 2007, a video went viral tagged as ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’. Rather than Pastrana, it showed Lizzie Velásquez, then 17, born in Texas blind in one eye with a rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight. Public comments called her a ‘monster’, even saying ‘just kill yourself’. The experience led Velásquez to make a documentary against cyberbullying, released in 2015 and raising the question of whether ‘ugly’ might be better applied to the accusers.
At opposite extremes, ‘ugliness’ has become not only an endpoint dismissal but also a rallying cry. In different times and places, any one of us might have been considered ugly: from the red-haired to the blue-eyed, left-handed to hook-nosed, humpbacked to blighted. It’s easy to turn any external feature into a sign for ugliness (and much more difficult to go the other way), or to reduce the story of ugliness to a string of case studies, without considering its larger legacy.
In ancient Greece, synonyms of ugliness connoted evil, disgrace and handicap. Exceptions could arise (the ugly but wise philosopher Socrates; the deformed fable-telling slave Aesop), but external features tended to be seen as a reflection of internal worth or a congenital omen. The ancient pseudo-science of physiognomy read moral goodness and evil proportionately to beautiful and ugly features. Medieval fairy tales transformed beauties and beasts, but negative connotations carried across centuries. Monsters arose in the margins of misunderstanding as colonial empires expanded. European explorers, for instance, interpreted ‘ugly’ sculptures of Indian gods as apocalyptic omens, read through Christian narratives for which they were never intended.
The 18th and 19th centuries continued to test the wavering line between beauty and ugliness. Caricatures exaggerated features at a time when ‘ugliness’ and ‘deformity’ were defined almost interchangeably. The British Parliamentarian William Hay, who was hunchbacked, tried to disentangle ‘deformity’ from its negative partner and argued that his deformed body did not mirror an ugly soul. Even as traditional meanings were challenged, freak shows hurled ugliness to new heights, alongside museums of anatomy and world fairs that exhibited human specimens and ethnic displays.
The First World War blew up inherited notions of ugliness. As warfare achieved new levels of mechanisation, once-beautiful young men were rendered ugly by the ravages of grenades, mustard gas and tanks. Some soldiers such as les Gueules cassées (or ‘broken faces’) banded together for ‘our horrible face’ to become ‘a moral educator’ that ‘returned us our dignity’. While most died or retreated from view, the visual shock became repackaged as artists and advertisers tried to re-piece a new world order. By the 1930s, Nazi Germany supported a nationalised aesthetic to censor the ugly in terms of ‘degenerate’, correlating artworks and cultural groups alike as targets of persecution and extermination.
During times of conflict, any threat or enemy can be uglified and thus generalised. An individual can get lumped into an ‘ugly’ group by an arbitrary feature – a yellow armband, or a black headscarf – depending on the eye of the beholder. While ‘ugly’ can be latched on to virtually anything, the word’s slippery legacy brands bodies, and can suggest more about the observer than the observed. As Frank Zappa sang, the ‘ugliest part of your body’ is not your nose or your toes but ‘your mind’.
In the late 1930s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark travelled the American South to study the psychological effects of racial discrimination and segregation, asking children to choose between white and black dolls. The white doll was overwhelmingly characterised as ‘pretty’, the black doll as ‘ugly’, with accompanying qualities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’. Following a similar theme in her novel The Bluest Eye (1970), Toni Morrison wrote of the effect of racism on the Breedlove family:
It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear… The master had said, ‘You are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict that statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance.
Art holds up a mirror to shifting attitudes. Initial tags of ‘ugly’ sometimes get forgotten as once-derided subjects become valued. Impressionism of the 19th century – now featured in blockbuster exhibits – was initially compared to mushy food and rotting flesh. When Henri Matisse’s works showed in the US at the Armory Show of 1913, critics lambasted his art as ‘ugly’, while art students in Chicago burned an effigy of his Blue Nude in front of the Art Institute. The same institution mounted a major retrospective of his work a century later. Jazz and rock’n’roll were once considered ‘ugly’ music, threatening to corrupt entire generations.
In the face of ‘ugly’ slurs, some artists embraced the word. The painter Paul Gauguin called ugliness ‘the touchstone of our modern art’. The poet and translator Ezra Pound encouraged a ‘cult of ugliness’. The composer Charles H H Parry praised ugliness in music, without which ‘there would not be any progress in either social or artistic things’. The critic Clement Greenberg lauded Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism as ‘not afraid to look ugly – all profoundly original art looks ugly at first’.
The word’s appropriation has helped to diffuse its negative charge. The 17th-century Chinese painter Shitao seemed to anticipate Pollock’s energetic brushstrokes when he titled his painting Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots . An earlier tradition of medieval Arabic poetry worked to positively reframe human conditions related to disease and disability by ‘uglifying beauty and beautifying ugliness’. The French term jolie laide , or ‘beautiful ugly’, harks back to the 18th-century when ‘ugly clubs’ emerged in Britain and the US as voluntary fraternal organisations, whose facetious members made light of their own motley crew of noses, chins and squints. Many clubs were demeaning and short-lived, but others – like Italy’s still-existing festa dei brutti , or Festival of the Ugly – survived and try to confront discriminations based on appearance.
Even as politics and social media wield ‘ugly’ spars, popular entertainment has embraced ugliness. The television show Ugly Betty (2006-10) ran a campaign to ‘Be Ugly’, and Shrek the Musical bore the tagline ‘Bringing Ugly Back!’ The popular children’s toys Uglydolls carry the motto: ‘Ugly is the new beautiful!’ While some entertainment fetishises ugliness, books such as Robert Hoge’s memoir Ugly (2013) and Scott Westerfeld’s young adult sci-fi novel Uglies (2005) encourage people to look beyond physical appearance. One anti-cyberbullying organisation has recast UGLY as an acronym: ‘Unique, Gifted, Loveable, You’. Once socially isolating, ‘ugly’ has been increasingly turned against itself to challenge inherited meanings and even confront injustices.
When we call something ugly, we say something about ourselves – and what we fear or dread. The 19th-century freak-show handlers and viewers who called Pastrana ‘ugly’ cast themselves in the shadow of the sideshow. Her remains were repatriated to Mexico in 2012 when the Norwegian National Committee for Research Ethics on Human Remains reversed the label by calling those handlers and viewers ‘grotesque’. The question remains: how do we perceive and react to similar situations in our midst? How do we set the stage for the future? Victor Hugo offered an embracing view of ugliness when he wrote that ‘the beautiful’ is ‘merely form considered in its simplest aspect’, while ‘the ugly’ is ‘a detail of a great whole which eludes us, and which is in harmony, not with man but with all creation’. As the binary stars of ugliness and beauty keep orbiting each other in our expanding universe, we might well remember all the other stars swinging around them as potential new constellations.