So you feel you are ugly? Don’t worry – perceptions adjust | Stephen Bayley

Ugliness is not usually repulsive. A casual survey of the history of art shows that what’s thought repulsive in one particular generation is frequently accommodated into a notion of the gorgeous in the next. In the middle ages, the Alps were an ugly prospect of horror. Now they are a vacation resort exactly where folks gasp at their organic beauty.

Nor is ugliness any impediment to private success. Beauty is boring – but ugliness, no matter how challenging to define, constantly fascinates. Place it this way: if everything were stunning, practically nothing would be. Our word ugly derives from the Old Norse ugga, which means aggressive. We need to have a measure of visual aggression to make beauty comprehensible, even tolerable.

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Occasionally individuals aspire to ugliness, as the hilarious outcomes of Zimbabwe’s Mr Ugly showed: the delighted winner, grinning from ear to ear, was this week criticised for not becoming ugly adequate. Similarly, California’s immensely well-known Ugly Dog Competition often declares winners who are immensely cute.

When the designers have been working on the jacket of my book Ugly: the Aesthetics of Everything, someone recommended adding a question mark and providing the complete cover a mirror finish. Curious browsers would be instantly confronted with their own image and a deadly query: how gorgeous are you?

The coordinates of attraction and repulsion are always shifting. We all appreciate beauty. Or say we do. But an appreciation of ugliness is essential to it. The gorgeous and the ugly are not opposites, but elements of the same factor. Concerned what people feel about your property? Wish your companion had been greater-hunting? In dieting, receiving a tan or going to the gym, choosing a Weimaraner over a rescue mutt, visiting an exhibition or shopping at Westfield, we are trying to obtain beauty to give us a private competitive advantage. But do not worry if you feel ugly: perceptions alter.

Ugliness is superior to beauty since it lasts longer

Serge Gainsbourg

In 1969, a group of London marketing folk, fatigued with the conventions of their trade, began The Ugly Modelling Agency. They wanted faces with character, not bland perfection. Appear at the photographs from the time and you wonder what the fuss was about. The agency survives as Ugly Models, and has Diesel and Calvin Klein as clientele.

Meanwhile, ever considering that the Francophile Nancy Mitford popularised the expression, we have had the concept of jolie-laide, a lady who can be appealing and ugly at the very same time. Mitford was herself an instance. So too is Jeanne Moreau. “Beauty” is not necessarily desirable. Nature is not a trustworthy source of beauty and can be rather nasty. Not all plants conform to lovely conventions: the Amorphophallus titanum is a hideous, swollen phallic thing stinking of death: it is known as the corpse flower.

Amorphophallus titanum, or corpse flower

‘Not all plants conform to lovely conventions: the Amorphophallus titanum is a vast, hideous, swollen phallic issue that stinks of death: it is identified as the corpse flower.’ Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

But ugliness is not usually repulsive. One of the most well-liked photos in the National Gallery is Quentin Matsys’s The Ugly Duchess (which inspired John Tenniel, the illustrator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). Besides, tastes adjust. The tides of taste go back and forth, erasing aesthetic certainties. This is a truth so disturbing that most of our assumptions about art are right away and ruinously undermined.

For instance, two years before it was completed, the wonderful Paris “intellos” of the day lined up in opposition to the Eiffel Tower, writing letters to the papers denouncing it as an ugly and hateful column of bolted tin. Of course, it is now one of the world’s most beloved monuments.

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John Ruskin, the Victorian booster of nature’s beauty, campaigned manically against the ugly intrusion of the steam railway into the unspoilt and tranquil Lake District. And he despised the introduction of the noisy vaporetto into the dignified Venice he regarded as his private intellectual playpen. Now we see each machine as quaint and lovely, possibly even stunning. Back in Ruskin’s London, the Albert Memorial, now a national architectural treasure as fondly regarded as hot buttered toast and the shipping forecast, was as soon as described as verminous and crawling.

Darwin explained our want for “beauty” in saying that breeding eye-catching children is a survival characteristic: I may possibly feel the want to fuse my premium genetic material with yours so that humanity continues in the identical fine style. But there may possibly be a mathematical, as effectively as biological, basis to the traditional concepts of the gorgeous. The Greeks believed beauty can be described by numbers. Classical sculpture was primarily based on strict ratios and classical architecture is pleasing simply because its proportions are based on the eye’s field of vision.

Apart from measurement, yet another issue that alterations our perceptions is time. “Familiarity is a magician that is cruel to beauty, but kind to ugliness,” according to the excitable Victorian novelist Marie Louise Ramé. This may not be as mad as it 1st sounds. It is beauty that is evanescent and fragile. When something becomes familiar we tolerate it, and tolerance can develop into affection. And, as that grizzled old gargoyle

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