As I was perusing the extra large men’s clothing at Goodwill last Tuesday, I came across a polyester leisure suit. At first glance, the thing seemed so grotesquely ugly that I laughed out loud. My friend Jonathan, who works part time at the store and was sorting men’s shirts on the men’s large-size rack, looked up and asked what was so funny.
I held up the two-piece, faded, baby blue, plaid suit for my friend to examine. His immediate reaction was not one of mirth. Jonathan expressed curiosity and enjoyment. He said he wished the garment was his size so he could wear it. At first, I thought he was joking, but Jonathan was serious. He said the leisure suit was a thing of beauty. The only thing I could reply was, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
I cannot envision Jonathan wearing a leisure suit for any occasion aside from Halloween. He’s a style-conscious 20-something with an eye for up-and-coming fashion trends. This time I hope his intuition is wrong. I don’t want to relive the fashion disasters of 1972. I didn’t even like leisure suits when they were the modern fashion trend back then.
So, how do we judge whether something seems ugly or beautiful? Basically, isn’t ugliness and beauty subjective?
I enjoy observing spiders. Most of these creatures have an efficient beauty. My favorites are jumping spiders. I will admit that there are a few spider species that are ugly, but I don’t often encounter them. If I am with my friend Andy when we see a spider, his first impulse is to find a way to kill the creature. My first impulse is to prevent him from smashing the arachnid.
Thankfully, Andy is able to see the beauty of jumping spiders, so he remains comfortable in their presence. The point is, Andy sees most spider species as very ugly while I perceive only a small fraction of spider species as ugly.
Ugliness and beauty are largely matters of taste. I love abstract and cubist paintings, some other people judge them as lifeless and cold. I crave modernity, many of my friends yearn for nostalgia.
Early last week, I re-watched my DVD copy of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. In my opinion, the movie is a masterpiece of cinematography. It is stunning in its production values, elegance of design, and ambiguity of storyline. I fell in love with the film back in 1968 when it was shown in the local movie theatre. Although I’ve viewed Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork dozens of times, new insights come to mind each time.
I don’t understand the critics and viewers who have panned the film. Are there certain personality traits present in people who love the stark, abstract qualities of the movie? Are there different traits in people who are indifferent to or dislike the film?
It would be interesting to understand why some ugly things are beautiful in the eyes of some people and why some beautiful things are ugly to other people. What about the overlap of beauty and ugliness perceptions? Andy likes jumping spiders, yet detests all of the others. Why does Jonathan like the baby blue, plaid leisure suit while I think it is an abomination?
Are what we judge as ugly or beautiful indicators as to whether a person is ugly or beautiful? That is a question for writers who have more skill in psychology than me. Most of us hope we are beautiful people.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Albert Einstein. “Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”