Cult of ugliness  

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Consideration 1: The difference between the grotesqueries and incongruities that had existed since Antiquity (continuing with Bosch and Mannerism) on the one hand and the modernist cult of ugliness on the other, is that the former was full of awesome laughter and the latter was deadly serious.

Consideration 2: The sublime was the first aesthetic category to diverge from the beauty of the pastoral landscape and the beauty of the feminine form, and in doing so was the first cultural tendency to subvert classic aesthetics.

--JW Geerinck


"If - in the 20th century - beauty was exiled from the arts, it found refuge in advertising, fashion, cinema, product design and consumer culture" --Sholem Stein


"Modern art's impulse was to destroy beauty." -- "The Sublime is Now" (1948), Barnett Newman

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Cult of ugliness refers to a relatively new phenomenon – largely coinciding with the arrival of modern art – in the history of art and aesthetics: the rejection of classical beauty ideals and the embracing of ugliness.

A predecessor for the cult of ugliness was Francis Bacon who said "There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion," not calling the ugly beautiful just yet but "strangeness in proportion" beautiful.

The Romantics where the first to profess a true cult of ugliness with the anonymous dictum "Only the ugly is beautiful, only the ugly is likeable" and Victor Hugo saying "the beautiful has but one type; the ugly has a thousand."

Baudelaire picked up on both Bacon and Hugo and said "what is beautiful is always bizarre".

Naturalistic works of literature such as those of Émile Zola often include uncouth or sordid subject matter. They exposed the dark, harshness of life, including poverty, racism, prejudice, disease, prostitution and filth. These 'warts and all' novels were often criticized for being too blunt.

In art, French realist painter, Gustave Courbet's large canvas A Burial At Ornans (1850) is a possible originary date of the modernist cult of ugliness.

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, Corbière, Beardsley are diagnosis."

In his 1917, Marcel Duchamp exhibits a urinal, calling it Fountain.

Breton in 1928 said La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas.

Equating modern art with ugliness Clement Greenberg suggested that "all profoundly original art looks ugly at first" in 1945.

Anais Nin stated the following on the "cult of ugliness" in The Novel of the Future (1969):

"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."

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cult of ugliness" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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