# Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education (ICADCE 2022)

Study of “Ugliness” in Chinese and Western Art History
55
Full-Text Views:
0
Citations (Scopus):
0
Citations (Crossref):
0

## 1. INTRODUCTION

The traditional aesthetic of “the highest principle” of the aesthetic ideal and artistic pursuit have been unable to meet the demand of the contemporary human spiritual civilization, the standard and content of art are also along with the development of social and break through the original limitations, gradually become diversify. Right now, a lot of ugly art appearing in life, so, it is necessary to analyze the aesthetic theory contained in these ugly art.

## 2. EXPRESSION OF “UGLINESS” IN WESTERN ART HISTORY

Before the Renaissance, Westerners did not have the way of thinking of subject-object dichotomy, and the discussion of natural things was still in the stage of ignorance. Aesthetic activities were carried out with the concept of “the unity of nature and man”. At that time, religious belief was an important factor affecting the occurrence and creation of art. People's worship of gods stimulated their pursuit of beauty. Plato believed that the artistic world was an imitation of the real world, while the real world was an imitation of the conceptual world. The conceptual world was absolute truth from God. Just as he said, artistic creation was due to the inspiration stimulation, and this inspiration was assisted by divine power. For example, people could see that the goddess was both dissolute, pure, and lovely in the sculpture “Aphrodite of Milos” with voluptuous breasts and comely facial features, that is, being affectionate, charming, and coquettish. This Aphrodite with beauty and love symbolized the ancient Greeks' pursuit and yearning for emotional life. Because of this, they rejected to express ugliness in their artistic creation, and believed that ugliness was evil and sin, which was contrary to the spirit of God. Lessing once mentioned in “Laocoon” that there was such a legal provision in Thebe — ugliness was not allowed in Thebe. For example, people could see that the Laocoon father and sons were wrapped by giant snakes in Hagesander's art work “Sculpture of Laocoon”. According to normal logic, their facial expressions should be extremely ferocious and painful, but the sculptor portrayed calm facial expressions, and people could only experience a hint of sadness, without seeing the physiological reaction under normal conditions. It could be seen that the sculptor deliberately avoided the expression of ugliness. Lessing explained this for us: “for the ancient Greeks, the expression of beauty is the supreme law of plastic arts” ([1], p.37). “Such shame is the sacrifice of artists to beauty” ([1], p.65). However, the artistic creation at this time did not completely “reject ugliness at all”. For example, in the sculptures “Aphrodite and Pan” and “Daphnis and Pan”, the Pan had sheep head human body, and he was placed next to Aphrodite and Daphnis, in order to set off the beauty of Aphrodite. Aristotle once said that human and animal corpses or ugly animal images were ugly in appearance, which was unpleasant. However, these ugly images were processed and transformed by artists into carefully drawn pictures, which could also make people feel happy, that is, “it seems that lifelike images can cause our pleasure” ([2], p.77). Plutarch also said that “only ugliness was taken as a proof of artistic skills. In addition, ugliness was excluded from art” ([3], p.51). From this point, it could be seen that the ultimate purpose of artistic creation in this period was to express beauty and equate beauty with goodness. Art can be unreal, but it cannot lack beauty. Ugliness only exists as a foil of beauty.

In the Renaissance, with the development of aesthetic practice, artists finally began to pay attention to ugliness and express ugliness. Art works no longer existed to publicize the God, but tended to explore and think about human nature. For example, Shakespeare shaped the cold-blooded and stingy miser — Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”. This person could be said to be a combination of the stink of money and brutality, spiritual corruption, and venality. It seemed that the meaning of life lied only in the pursuit of money. This ugly desire was deeply portrayed by Shakespeare. Another example was Francois Rabelais' novel “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, which described three monstrous giants — Gargantua, Pantagruel and Grantguderme. They spoke in a vulgar way and behaved strangely, but the author didn't aim to criticize these ugly giants, but rather criticize the darkness of the ruling class. It could be seen that in the author's view, the real ugliness was not the “giant” who indulged in pleasure and disturbed the discipline, but the stupid and cruel medieval society. The famous painter Rodin's “old prostitute” shaped an elderly prostitute, with a haggard face, drooping breasts and bent body, which could be described as a person with ugly appearance. People couldn't help but marvel at that how such an ugly woman could be. After exclamation, people thought of that the old prostitute, who was in the society, suffered from wind and rain, slowly aged and died under the devastation of years. Compared with the works of “beauty” in ancient Greece, the ugliness of the work “old prostitute” and its negation and criticism of the ugliness in social phenomena had deepened people's understanding of life. This way of expressing the meaning of life through the description of ugly phenomena in real society began to be recognized by society.

Until modern times, the status of “ugliness” in art was stable. Lessing first proposed the principle of dealing with ugliness in art. His famous work “Laocoon” mainly distinguished between classical art and modern art. He believed that classical art was mainly plastic arts, such as painting and sculpture. Due to the guidance of philosophy and the admiration of rationality and religion, art took “beauty” as the creative principle, and repelled the ugliness. And poetry was the symbol of modern art. With people's criticism of religion and irrational liberation, artists advocated truth, and there was a natural description of ugliness in artistic expression. In 1853, Rosenkrantz's “aesthetics of ugliness” was born. In the book, Rosenkrantz clearly pointed out that ugliness didn't belong to beauty, but it was actually related to beauty. In artistic expression, the expression of ugliness should follow a certain principle, that is, ugliness couldn't exist independently in art. As the first book devoted to the study of ugliness, Rosenkrantz liberated ugliness from the shadow of beauty. Ugliness no longer attached to beauty, but gained independence and became a real aesthetic category, meaning that the discussion of ugliness in aesthetics began to enter a new stage. At the same time, Hugo, the French writer, also seemed to realize that the status of ugliness was rising. He said, “The contact with the funny and ugly has given modern loftiness something purer, greater and nobler than ancient beauty; and this is also a matter of course... Beauty has only one type, but ugliness is ever-changing” ([4], p.42). Hugo successfully shaped two ugly representatives in “Notre Dame de Paris”, one was Quasimodo, a bell ringer with a deformed body and an ugly appearance, and the other was a deputy leader with good facial features and an important position. However, the ugly Quasimodo was the embodiment of goodness and justice. He bravely rescued Esmeralda from the dark church. The other deputy leader, who looked intact and deformed, wanted to kill Esmeralda because he couldn't get her love. Through this comparison, the author on the one hand believed that deformity could also be beautiful; on the other hand, he expressed his disgust and hatred for the feudal ruling class. In the end, the author gave the end of being “dead” for the deputy leader, which was a strong satire and criticism of the hypocritical and despicable people. During this period, artists' expression of ugliness was more realistic. Through the depiction of ugliness in real life, they directly reflected the embarrassment and hardship of the lower-class people, and mercilessly criticized and satirized the injustice, darkness and ruthlessness of the real society. In Van Gogh's “The Potato Eaters”, the artist outlined the working masses with thick and black lines. From the picture, people could see that a family of six people were crowded in a narrow and cold cabin. It could be seen that each character had prominent eyes because of overwork, and they were nervous. The meals on the table were pitiful and the environment gloomy. Ugly elements could be seen everywhere. However, for viewers, these characters were not ugly, but poor. And people can experience their hardships and helplessness.

From the above analysis of the phenomenon of ugliness appreciation in Western art, the important reason why Westerners rejected “ugliness” for a long time was their admiration for rationality, and that art should be the imitation of all things in nature, and the discussion and summary of the universe and natural laws. From ancient Greece to modern times, in Western art, sensibility and rationality have always been in a very tense relationship. The emphasis on ugliness is due to the rise of irrationalism. However, from the pre-Qin Dynasty to Qing Dynasty and Ming Dynasty, China's artistic creation had been based on the philosophy of “the unity of nature and man” and “the integration of all things”. Artistic creation focused on the expression of human thoughts and emotions, and the attitude towards “ugliness” was relatively tolerant and positive. Whether in works of art or literary theory, it is suggested to “not exclude ugliness, cover ugliness, suppress ugliness, taboo ugliness, or recognize the legitimacy of ugliness, but to talk about ugliness, express ugliness, and believe that ‘ugliness’ has special artistic value” ([8], p.19).

## 3. EXPRESSION OF “UGLINESS” IN CHINESE ART HISTORY

Due to the different philosophical thoughts based on, the art concept and creative principles would also be different. Therefore, the creation of ugliness appreciation in Chinese art is different from that in the West. First of all, in terms of artistic expression, the appreciation of ugliness in Chinese art reflected the dissatisfaction and resistance of artists to the shackles of feudal ethics on human spirit, and it was not a rebellion against rationalism or a counterattack to mainstream beauty. Secondly, in the creation principle of art, Chinese artists took the philosophy of “the unity of nature and man” and “the unity of all things” as the principles, and paid more attention to the expression of their own emotions. On the one hand, they expressed their pride that they were not willing to bow to power through art; on the other hand, they expressed their feelings of home and country. By sorting out the historical origin of ugliness appreciation, it's known that ugliness appreciation was not a product of contemporary society, nor did it only exist in today's society. At all times and in all countries, artists and philosophers had never ignored the attention to ugliness, but in each historical stage, the relationship between beauty and ugliness was different, and the mission of ugliness appreciation was different. However, the purpose of creating works of artistic appreciation of ugliness is to pursuit the truth, goodness and beauty. And it is suggested to criticize, deny and eliminate ugliness by reflecting the ugliness in society and human nature.

## 4. CONCLUSION

Western philosophy has been based on reason since ancient Greece. Plato believed that the origin of the world was the “ideal world”; Pythagorean School believed that “number” was the origin of all things; Aristotle believed that art should describe what would happen and should be a summary of the laws of all things in the universe; and Descartes believed that “ego cogito ergo sum”, and so on. For a long time, under the care of rationalism, aesthetics has been biased towards rationality. Thus, ugliness is regarded as a symbol of irrationality and rejected from the art world. After the 19th century, great changes have taken place in the human world. Under the influence of capitalism, industrial revolution and the First World War and the Second World War, people began to pay attention to people themselves, that is, people's desire and will. Philosophy began to shift from the attention and admiration of rationality to the attention and admiration of irrationality and sensibility. Due to the improvement of perceptual knowledge, ugliness shined brightly in the field of art. In existential philosophy, “sadness”, “horror”, “loneliness” and other irrational emotions and thoughts were the most real state of human beings. Sartre, one of the representatives, believed that beauty did not exist in the real world, that beauty only existed in the ideal world, and that the existence of the world was absurd. Camus, another representative, believed that the existence of art was absurd, which was caused by people's disappointment. The core idea of existentialism was that ugliness appreciation was sorrow, telling people the truth of society and reality with the artistic image of ugliness, exposing the darkness of human nature, and making people soberly face themselves and the world. Subsequently, philosophers shifted the object of cognition from the world to human consciousness. Freud used his psychoanalysis to study human feelings and consciousness and believed that human unconsciousness and instinctive impulse played a decisive role in artistic creation. Then, Jung compensated Freud's individual unconsciousness with collective unconsciousness. This in-depth study of human sensibility provided a theoretical basis for the expression of ugliness in art. Adorno believed that existence of classical art was to bring vitality and hope to people, and existence of modern art was to realize people's self-salvation through the disillusionment of hope. This negative aesthetics criticized the ugliness of the real society and revealed the ugliness of the real society through the negation of beauty, in order to awaken the numb people's hearts and regenerate people in the negative artistic image, which was the idea and goal of the art of ugliness appreciation.

## REFERENCES

[Germany] Lessing. Laocoon, translated by Guangqian Zhu. People's Literature Publishing House, 1963. (in Chinese)
Aristotle. Poetics, translated by Zhonghai Chen. Commercial Press, 1996. (in Chinese)
Xingchen Li. A Course in the History of Western Aesthetics. Peking University Press, 2005. (in Chinese)
[France] Hugo. Cromwell Preface, translated by Mingjiu Liu. Hebei Education Press, 1998. (in Chinese)
Kongyang Jiang. New Theory of Aesthetics. People's Literature Publishing House, 2006. (in Chinese)
[Germany] Adorno. Principles of Aesthetics, translated by Keping Wang. Sichuan People's Publishing House, 1999. (in Chinese)
Tracey Emin. Absolute Art Journal, 1999. (in Chinese)
Yicun He. Contemporary Shift of Ugliness Appreciation in Chinese Art. Hefei University of Technology Press, 2016. (in Chinese)
[Warring States] Zhuangzi. Notes to Zhuangzi, noted by Jichu Cao. Zhonghua Book Company, 2000. (in Chinese)
[Spring and Autumn Period] Qiuming Zuo. Zuo Zhuan Annotation in the Spring and Autumn Period, annotated by Shuguo Chen. Yuelu Publishing House, 2006. (in Chinese)
Qi Li. Ugly, Ugliness Appreciation, Ugly Philosophy. Journal of Northeast Normal University, 2006. (in Chinese)

ris
TY  - CONF
AU  - Yuxuan Li
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/11/21
TI  - Study of “Ugliness” in Chinese and Western Art History
BT  - Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education (ICADCE 2022)
PB  - Athena Publishing
SP  - 191
EP  - 197
SN  - 2949-8937
UR  - https://doi.org/10.55060/s.atssh.221107.031
DO  - https://doi.org/10.55060/s.atssh.221107.031
ID  - Li2022
ER  -

enw
bib