From Collectors Weekly:
We’ve all had that moment while perusing a flea market or junk store when you stumble across an item and have to yelp, “Good lord, that is ugly!” So ugly, in fact, you have to marvel that it even got made in the first place.But what is it exactly that makes an object ugly? Picture a Rococo room, with every inch covered in scrolling gold ornamentation, crammed with chubby cherubs and vaguely erotic irregular shapes. Do you feel horrified or fascinated? Compare that with the spare, clean lines of Shaker room with simple, elegant wooden furniture. Is it the picture of blissful peace or painful boredom? Does folk art make you cringe, or do you see rough-hewn beauty in its imperfections? Does iridescent carnival glass make you jump for joy or avert your eyes?
You might feel revolted by an object, but if you try to objectively explain why it is ugly, it’s harder than you think. Most people are influenced by the dominant tastes and fashion sensibilities of their generation, class, and ethnic group, and when you remove those factors from the equation, an exact, universal definition of “ugliness” becomes almost impossible to pin down.
British design critic and cultural commentator Stephen Bayley was up for the challenge, writing a book called Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything, first published in 2012. But as Bayley—who is unapologetically obsessed with his Modernist version of beauty—delved into the process of examining what he and others consider ugly, he found that the ugliness would vanish.
“It’s a book of questions rather than answers,” Bayley tells me on the phone from London. “When you start thinking about defining beauty, it disappears. It’s like trying to embrace fog. Same goes for ugliness—the idea is as slippery as an eel.”
Still, everyone has an intuitive sense of ugliness—things we find troubling, aggressive, or annoying—and we know it when we see it. “We all know what ugly really means,” Bayley says. “The English word comes the Old Norse word, ‘uggligr,’ which means ‘aggressive,’ which is why we talk about an ‘ugly customer’ in English. Ugly things are things which we find disturbing. But at the same time, disturbing things are also interesting.”...SO MUCH MORE