Thursday, January 17, 2008
the beauty of ugly
I was thinking this morning on the way to work about why exactly I am drawn to things that aren't just less than perfect, but have obvious defects, wear and tear, or just "wrongness" about them. I came up with three conclusions, all of which play a part in my attraction to, and need to acquire and surround myself with peeling paint, rusting hinges, wobbly joints, and frayed edges.
The simple answer would be simply because I like the aesthetic; old worn objects tend to have a beautiful, unified color statement when placed together, and the patina of age and time has a tendency to soften edges, mute colors, and smooth out the stark corners of newness. Being made of more natural materials as well, the textures and colors just resonate with me; there is such visual poetry in a beat-up wooden bowl, a sun-bleached piece of moss green silk velvet, or the slightly dusty, peeling face of an ancient taxidermied creature. But I think there is more to it than that.
My first conclusion is the feeling of maternal protection many of these things give me. I always thought that if/when I choose a pet from a shelter, I would find the most ragged, three-legged, one-eyed cat they could throw at me, because he would probably be considered unadoptable, but I would love him in his ugliness. Many inanimate objects give me the same feeling, the feeling that they are vulnerable, and need to be loved and protected. Old plush toys with their vacant glass eyes and ripping, handsewn seams are very much like the Velveteen Rabbit - loved into oblivion. Objects can fall into ruin by being loved too much just as they can by being abandoned. Perhaps it's that exact dichotomy that draws me.
Another, probably obvious, idea is the constant search for fellow misfits. So many people feel like they can't relate to "most" other people, or that they are somehow different in a way that is seen by the general populous as "broken" or "strange" or "ill-fitting". I collect things that are misfits. They are old, they have very few, if any, matches in the world, and the very nature of them being produced one at a time means they are not one of a million, and maybe not even one of a thousand. And completely handmade treasures, like home-made toys, were made in a production run of one. Time has affected them all in a unique way, and even if they began life looking identical to their counterparts, they will look vastly different now.
The allure of ugly is very strong. I remember always being upset at the end of Beauty and the Beast stories, when the beast turns into the Prince - I always liked him better as the Beast. All that was interesting about him, all that was a little bit dangerous, a little bit primal, a little bit frightening, was traded in for a clean-shaven square jaw and doofus-y pageboy haircut. So boring. I love the quirks in other people; freckled skin, crooked teeth, cowlicks, shadows of life still marked on them, and in the case of my husband, a scarred upper lip and one pupil that always dilates twice as much as the other one.
I think I'll always be attracted to what is slightly "off", a bit foreign, a bit uncomfortable, a bit dirty. It's not just an aesthetic appeal, it's something that touches me deeply and resonates within me. Perhaps my modern life is just too sterile and branded, I don't know. But I do know that I will continue to create new things that seem like old things, in my neverending quest to fill my world with the comfort of things loved literally to pieces.