Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pretty Ugly Art

Autoportrait dans la salle de bain, 1988, Bernard Buffet--deliberately ugly.
Where would art be without adjectives? I'm not sure; I only know that without them, art would be damned hard to write about. Today as I was considering several artists I might expound upon, I came upon the work of the French artist, Bernard Buffet (born, 1928, Paris). His paintings do not appeal to me, but then I often write about artists I find unappealing. However in this case, as I got deeper and deeper into this man's body of work (he died in 1999), it began to dawn upon me that, hey, this guy did some pretty ugly paintings (especially his portraits). In arriving at such a drastic conclusion, I found myself pondering, did the artist just naturally produce ugly art or did he go out of his way to do so? Buffet's self-portrait (above) is an ugly face in an ugly place. Not all of Buffet's paintings are ugly, though I wouldn't go so far as to classify any of them as beautiful in the traditional sense of the word. His New York: Brooklyn Bridge (below), from 1989, looks familiar and is pleasing, strong, and quite "New Yorkish" in its bold, visual textures married to the subtleties of  Buffet's favorite colors. It's what I would broadly term "good" art.

New York: Brooklyn Bridge, 1989, Bernard Buffet.
There's another adjective (and a terribly overused one at that). Together with it's opposite, combined with "ugly," would make a apt title for a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. All of which begs the question, is ugly art necessarily bad art, and conversely, good art always beautiful? Our first impulse would be to answer both questions, yes. However, giving the matter a little deeper thought, (and fearing the use of absolutes in any context) the less obvious reply would be a somewhat cautiously uncertain "no." Then, the next thought might be, "...but don't make me have to prove it."

The Gunslingers, Justin Reed--the good, the bad, and the ugly.
After some consideration, one might decide the best course would be to divorce the good-bad continuum from that of beautiful-ugly. Associating them only muddies the water in both ponds. Here is where we insert the ancient, trite, but true maxim, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and assert the same to be true of "ugly." Both "bad" and "ugly" are negatives, presumably to be avoided, if not at all costs, then at least, whenever possible. Subjectively, art dwells upon beauty, often to an extent that might be considered unconscionable, while the world around us often seems unconscionably ugly. Is art, then, to ignore the ugly while only exalting beauty? Of course not. The news media, in fact, is often accused of doing just the opposite. Beauty is only achieved by appreciating its presence. Ugliness cannot be erased by simply ignoring it. In fact, a vital argument could be made that only by proclaiming its presence, can we combat ugliness. Thus we could say, some art should be ugly.

Woman V, 1952-53, Willem de Kooning.
No one ever used the adjective, "beautiful," regarding this piece.

No comments:

Post a Comment