How “Ugly” Art Preserves Culture Too

When one looks at an H.R. Giger painting, it’s difficult to see how this art contributes positively to the overall world of art and culture. This can be hard to see because “ugly” artists like Giger often create designs that are quite shocking and horrifying. However, this art actually contributes much to the world of art, but in a quite different way than the art of Michelangelo or Da Vinci.

Different Perspectives

My favorite art teacher in school once said that art is a representation of what it means to be human. That does not mean that it is pretty, but that doesn’t mean it’s always ugly either. Some art will fall to either extreme, just because humans often fall to extremes as well.  Art pieces like the ones Banksy creates will often provoke negative emotions, which are just as valid as positive emotions. Gustave Dore’s illustrations for such religious literary texts as Inferno and Paradise Lost are great examples of this; they SHOULD be ugly and shocking, because the meaning of the texts are often ugly and shocking. Art should match the emotion that the artist is trying to provoke.

Types of Art

Art can be broadly divided into three emotional categories: The Exquisite, the Mundane, and the Ugly. The Exquisite is represented by most Renaissance Christian art; it is a bit overblown but breathtaking at the same time. The Mundane is broad, but great examples include the Impressionistic painters depicting scenes of starry nights or flowers or lilies. The Ugly is a fairly recent development, and has much to do with the loss of hope for many during the Industrial Revolution. Each of these represent stages in our life. The Exquisite is what we hope to gain eventually; it is unreachable but hopeful. The Mundane is where we are in life. We are simply living life and enjoying it, from doing simple things like picking up great racquets for a game of badminton all the way to playing games with children. And the Ugly represents our fear, and what we hope to never see.

More Power

The last reason why ugly or negative art is made is because negative emotions have more power than positive ones. This is a sad fact about the world we live in. Fear will induce a stronger reaction than the same amount of love; pain produces a bigger reaction than pleasure. And a dreadful or fearful image will create a stronger emotion than will a beautiful one. A scary movie sticks with you longer than a romantic movie. Artists love provoking emotions, and very driven ones can provoke very powerful emotions with fearful images. So why do we love scary movies or have a fascination with frightening images? It’s because we connect with them on a stronger level than we do with beauty. Is that bad? Maybe, maybe not… But it is true, so don’t be afraid to be afraid occasionally!