What Defines Ugly?

You see them, then what?

You see them, then what?

Recently while testing a new lens I was walking around. It was the 14th of December, incredibly mild weather and I see these two things in the street. I looked once and I looked again. I was still intrigued by what I saw. A few clicks and some bracketing shots later, light images were captured by a sensor inside my camera. This image has kept me thinking. What defines ugly?

We, meaning people in the globalised capitalist world are constantly exposed to images and symbols that are supposed to convey messages of the things we are expected to desire and want. To present images and symbols of such things includes making them look appealing, most of the time attractive or even beautiful in some way.

This exposure to images and symbols directly and indirectly influences our thoughts and feelings of many things. This influence more specifically affects how we associate things to other related and unrelated things. Case in point: BMW. Think BMW therefore think about premium rear-wheel-driven cars with racing heritage. You would not immediately associate BMW with motor cycles, hybrid vehicles and off-road vehicles. Yet BMW makes those vehicles too but BMW chooses to emphasise a specific image to appeal attractive or even beautiful to its core audience, namely its target customers.

Now try to ignore the images symbols of all things attractive or even beautiful. What defines ugly? Between beauty and ugliness there is the zone of all things non-offensive and non-provocative. After that everything that is too different or deemed unacceptable to some standard(s) will often be referred to as “ugly.”

The realm of all things ugly is fascinating. Think of post 1900 art like Dadaism. It confronts every assumption, idea and concept you have of things that you think of as attractive or beautiful. Take the Mona Lisa and an image of Eric Cartman and think out loud about what you perceive. Purpose, techniques used, audience and first impressions will vary.

There are no absolute answers to what defines beauty and ugliness. Contrast between them forces you to think and ask “what do I really perceive?” In world saturated with images and symbols that question is important.

How to define ugly…