As a followup to Umberto Eco’s History of Beauty, I have also created a presentation on his “On Ugliness” for my course.
Surprisingly, I found the images and related passages about ugliness much more interesting than the ones about beauty. As Eco himself notes, the topic of ugliness is one that is written about much less frequently than ugliness, so it was certainly a change of pace.
There’s no steady mention of it, but what I gathered from reading this course is that there is some kind of link between ugliness and fear. Society tends to find ugly that which it is afraid of, either within themselves or from the world around them. This would perhaps be a thesis that is worth exploring a bit more.
Most intriguing of all was the conclusion, which suggests that perhaps there is no longer an aesthetic differentiation between beauty and ugliness in our current culture. On one hand, we still revere those with classic beauty like Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman, but on at the same time we idolize someone like Marilyn Manson.
In the past 100 years or so, the images Eco chose to represent both beautiful and ugly are hard to tell apart.
What does this say about the status of art?
I think, if nothing else, it likely reflects the confusion and frustration in art theory and philosophy of art in trying to define exactly what art is. What gets included and what doesn’t?
Check out the presentation below and let me know what you think.