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Intriguingly ugly: "Good unconventional" versus "bad good-for-nothing"

Hand on heart: have you ever walked into a gallery or encountered an artwork on display that you found downright ugly? How can an art enthusiast discern between intentionally crafted 'ugly' that still respects aesthetics and the genuinely 'ugly ugly'?

Let’s embark on something new: Turning the ugly into the beautiful, or, at the very least, making it captivating to behold. In the aesthetics of the ugly, there is a deliberate departure from traditional notions of harmony, balance, and ideal proportions that are often associated with classical or conventional views.

Disgust Unthreatening by Nanna Starck, © Graysc

A glance at the history of art and aesthetics brings us to Karl Rosenkranz. Four years before Baudelair’s “Fleurs du Mal”, he boldly challenges in his pivotal work “Aesthetics of Ugliness” the conventional condemnation of ugliness, presenting it as more than just the negation of beauty. Unlike its reduction to evil or materiality, Rosenkranz emphasizes the specificity of ugliness and its dynamic nature as a process that influences aesthetic canons. His insights are deeply rooted in the context of modern urban life offering a critical perspective on the phenomena of modernization. Since ever then, the world of ugliness has been a topic filling countless books and conversations.


Take on the challenge: How to deal with it


Ugly aesthetics may involve intentionally distorting proportions, creating works where elements are exaggerated or disproportionate. This distortion can convey a sense of unease, tension, or disruption while also challenging the viewer’s expectations, norms, and standards. Asymmetry and imbalances make this ugliness even more eruptive, deliberately rejecting or subverting “traditional” principles. Instability and discord contribute to this kind of aesthetics, not limited to the image content but extending to unconventional formats and structures. Irregular canvases and abnormal dimensions that defy the typical framing or presentation of art foster the feeling of this deviation. Moreover, the departure from conventional color harmonies to clashing schemes tackles sensitivity and encourages a reevaluation of visual appeal. Do you still dare to look at it?


Fragmentation and disintegration play a major role in the aesthetics of ugliness where broken or fragmented elements symbolize decay, disruption, or the impermanence of beauty challenges the notion of a harmonious and cohesive whole. Spatial disorientation can elevate the level of ugliness: such irregularities or ambiguities force the viewer to navigate through artworks in rather uncomfortable or disconcerting ways. To amp up raw and unpolished forms artists turn to the pursuit of rough textures and raw materials to convey a sense of authenticity and directness. No matter the mix of options, in the end, chaos and disorder may take over the reins in the dialogue with the viewer. Ugly art invites one to confront oneself with the unpredictability of the aesthetic experience. Happy to accept?


In essence, ugly aesthetics deliberately disrupt conventional principles and pursue the goal of challenging preconceived notions of beauty, provoking emotional and intellectual responses, and exploring alternative modes of artistic expression that may be unsettling or thought-provoking. And what about the ugly ugly? Well, *choke.


In exploring the aesthetics of ugliness and its evolving role in tastemaking, let's not just admire from a distance—let's engage in a lively discourse. The conversation awaits, and your perspective is an integral part of reshaping our understanding of the unconventional in art and aesthetics. Share your thoughts, challenge norms, and redefine beauty.

Yours truly,


A&P Sidenote: Nanna Starck's grotesque art finds a new haven in the form of the exhibition Ugly Feelings, evoking repulsive emotions. Her sculptural practice revolves around the relief, focusing on the grotesque body, the abject, gender, and sexuality. Her work, influenced by Viennese Actionism and reliefs from Antiquity, serves as a political tool, using boundary-pushing scenarios to address societal alienation, feminism, and body positivity, often evoking laughter and disgust through the merge of absurd bodily scenarios with everyday objects.

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