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The 'cult of ugliness'
Related: aesthetics - boredom - cult - modernism - realism - sordidness - ugliness
Rumination 1: The difference between the grotesqueries and incongruities that had existed in art at least since Bosch and Mannerism on the one hand and the modernist cult of ugliness on the other, is that the latter was deadly serious and the former full of awesome laughter.
Rumination 2: The sublime was the first aesthetic category to diverge from the beauty of the pastoral landscape, the beauty of the feminine form, and in doing so was the first cultural tendency to subvert classicist aesthetics.
I think that natural truths will cease to be spat at us like insults, that aesthetics will once more be linked with ethics, and that people will become aware that in casting out aesthetics that they also cast out a respect for human life, a respect for creation, a respect for spiritual values. Aesthetics was an expression of man's need to be in love with his world. The cult of ugliness is a regression. It destroys our appetite, our love for our world. --The Novel of the Future (1969) - Anaïs Nin
"All profoundly original art looks ugly at first." --Clement Greenberg
Art movements 'celebrating' ugliness: high 'modernist' literature - 20th century expressionism - Naturalism (literature)
L’Absinthe - also known as The Absinthe Drinker or Glass of Absinthe, is a painting by Edgar Degas. Originally titled "A sketch of a French Café", in 1893 it was changed to "L’Absinthe." Painted in 1876, it depicts two figures, a woman and man, who sit in the center and right of this painting, respectively. The man, wearing a hat, looks right, off the canvas, while the woman, dressed formally and also wearing a hat, stares vacantly downward. A glass filled with the titular greenish liquid, absinthe, sits before her. In its first showing in 1876 it was panned by critics, who called it ugly and disgusting. It was put into storage until an 1892 exhibit where it was booed off the easel.
Artists fascinated with ugliness: Diane Arbus - Nan Goldin
In his 1913 essay The Serious Artist, Ezra Pound discusses two types of art; The "cult of beauty" and the "cult of ugliness". He compares the former with medical cure and the latter with medical diagnosis, and goes on to write "Villon, Baudelaire, Corbiere, Beardsley are diagnosis." - "beauty is difficult": Cantos LXXIV, LXXX
Cult of ugliness and naturalistic literature
Naturalistic works of literature often include uncouth or sordid subject matter. For example, Émile Zola's works had a frankness about sexuality along with a pervasive pessimism. Naturalistic works exposed the dark, harshness of life, including poverty, racism, prejudice, disease, prostitution, filth etc... These works were often criticized for being too blunt.
Tropic of Cancer (1934) - Henry Miller [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK] more ...
Tropic of Cancer belongs to that modernist generic category of explicit and sordid, but profoundly unerotic literature. It is however, not without its defendents; George Orwell called it "the most important book of the mid-1930's" and The Modern Library named it the 50th greatest book of the 20th century. [Aug 2006]
Sexuality and Modernism
In search of the sexual component of Modernism
Strain A: asexual modernism, sexless modernism.
- Pablo Picasso
- Le Corbusier
- International Style
- Serial music
- John Cage
Strain B: sexual modernism, sexy modernism.
- Gustave Courbet
- Marcel Duchamp
- Hans Bellmer
- Sigmund Freud
- Félicien Rops
A lot of the sexualness in 'strain A' of Modernism was unerotic. There was nakedness, but no nudity. There was sex, but no desire, mind but no body and no sensuality.
See also: sex - asexual
The Modernist Cult of Ugliness : Aesthetic and Gender Politics (2002) - Lesley Higgins
The Modernist Cult of Ugliness : Aesthetic and Gender Politics (2002) - Lesley Higgins [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
"Cult of ugliness," Ezra Pound’s phrase, powerfully summarizes the ways in which modernists such as Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and T. E. Hulme—the self-styled "Men of 1914"—responded to the "horrid or sordid or disgusting" conditions of modernity by radically changing aesthetic theory and literary practice. Only the representation of "ugliness," they protested, would produce the new, truly "beautiful" work of art. They dissociated the beautiful from its traditional embodiment in female beauty, and from its association with Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. Their cultivation of ugliness displaced misogyny and homophobia. Higgins takes in texts such as John Ruskin’s art criticism, Eliot’s literary journalism, Lewis’s pro-fascism pamphlets, and the poetry of Pound, Conrad Aiken, and Langston Hughes. She demonstrates that even vigorous champions of beauty were committed to aesthetic practices that disempowered female figures in order to articulate new truths of male artistic mastery. --from the publisher
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