If it is true, as Stendhal famously remarked, that beauty is the promise of happiness; what then is ugliness the promise of?

 

What is ugly? Who is ugly? – cont. 

According to Umberto Eco:

Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes throughout the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules. … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.

Venus-Willendorf

Venus of Willendorfc. 24,000-22,000 BC, limestone, 4 3/8″ (11.1 cm) high
(Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)

Venus of Willendorf is an icon of prehistoric art. She was found by the archeologist Josef Szombathy near the town Willendorf in Austria in 1908.

The sculpture shows a woman with a large stomach that overhangs but does not hide her pubic area. A roll of fat extends around her middle, joining with large but flat buttocks. Her thighs are also large and pressed together down on the knees. Her forearms are, however, thin and holding the upper part of her large and full breasts. The genital area is deliberately emphasized with the vulva well detailed. At the time of its discovery, the statuette showed traces of red ocher pigment, which has been thought to symbolize, or serve as a surrogate of, the menstrual blood. This with the breasts and the rounded stomach accentuate the notion of procreativity and nurture.

To the modern eye, the Venus of Willendorf is an icon of obesity. But in the hunter–gatherer society where the statuett was made, too low BMI – with consequent infertility – was probably a widespread problem. Venus, therefore, might have functioned as an unattainable model. A beauty. An encouragement to put on weight.

Iiu Venus

Copyright© Iiu Susiraja 2011-2013

6 comments on “If it is true, as Stendhal famously remarked, that beauty is the promise of happiness; what then is ugliness the promise of?

  1. Perhaps it’s not a promise? Perhaps there’s still a promise there? Is a promise not an expression of potential? Does ‘ugliness’ not also contain that potential? Might it be a dwelling in surfaces, in story, in a spiritual state longing for disembodiment, which becomes embodied as an enlarged habitation of bodily space? Is that not a social thing? Is it not a paradox? Is it not an expression of intimacy? Even in its absence?

      • Tiny but powerful. The photo has its own power. I have never found the Venus ugly, I do find the photo ugly. They both bring a reaction but one I could live with, the other would be in a closet fairly promptly. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I see and read about ugliness all the time ( vide any newspaper) and need to isolate myself from bringing too much of it into my life. The photo is a teaching for me, I don’t need to see it all the time. The venus has a more magical timeless pull. Ugliness visual or otherwise is, for me, the promise of unease. Again useful as a teaching but not something I usually want to create or have around in my visual field if I have a choice.
        Just one old guys reaction.

      • Hi Peter, I’d like to elaborate a bit:
        1. I would definitively not like to have a Susiraja photo on my wall, but this does not mean her art is bad. I wouldn’t like to have it around because it’s too strong, too demanding. There is a lot of great art I prefer to be served in small doses.
        2. The problem isn’t that Susiraja’s photos are ugly, but that the subject in them is.
        3. You say ugliness is all over the place and you might be right, but there is a difference between being exposed for ugliness in the media and being confronted with it in an art gallery. The gallery opens for a different kind of reflection and interpretation. It gives us time and space to contemplate not only the work of art in itself, but also our own reactions to what wee see. It gives us a chance to dwell on our own feelings. (Which might of course be very uncomfortable).
        4. Absolute agree; the photo is a teaching – it would be upsetting to have it on the wall.

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