In a week where there is yet more ugliness and fear splashed across the world’s media, I will leave this with you, as my last blog for this round, inspired by artists and their take on love.
This 16th century painting is accompanied by much debate, speculation and little known fact. It’s anything from a satirical representation of ‘cougars’ to a real portrait of a woman known as Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, claimed by her ‘enemies’ to be ugly, through to a sufferer of Paget’s disease. Whoever was the artist’s muse, the general consensus is that she is ugly. The painting is titled ‘The Ugly Duchess.’
But ugliness isn’t the absence of perceived beauty; it’s not the opposite of beauty either. Believe me, this image of the duchess is not ugly!
Ugliness is unkindness. Ugliness is a disease that is spreading like a pandemic where it is increasingly difficult to lead an inclusive, loving and authentic life. A life where we are out of touch with our inner feelings, desires and aspirations. A life where our heads, hearts and souls are misaligned. A life where we often lack respect and compassion for the feelings and most basic rights of others.
Ugliness is a life unfulfilled, one which does not meet the promise of what a human life can be. It is when governments and leaders justify or ignore poverty, slavery, discrimination. It is when society or culture condemns a life lived as a man, when one is really a woman; ugliness is life spent in silent bitterness, when there is a humane voice which longs to sing out love and unity; ugliness is educating a child to believe that they are less than something – less than clever, less than creative, less than an individual, less than a community, less than love. It is not being able to comfort the dying with the healing balm of human touch; it is not being able to respect that we are all one.
Ugliness is lack of respect and compassion for the earth and all its inhabitants. It is ravaging our natural environment and ecosystems to satisfy human greed. Whilst there are those that argue that Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans, now we are leaving the deepest and most damaging of scars and it is the ugliest of excuses.
Ugliness is when we lose our sense of individual responsibility – when we are reflected in a mirror that persistently points out that we need to transform or risk oblivion. It is deep shame when the mirror reflects back an image of humanity that is degrading or humiliating, selfish and egocentric and still, we turn away or worse, we preen and pimp.
Can we choose not to be ugly? To treat each other with love and respect? To seek the beauty in everyone and everything? Do we have a choice not to denigrate or belittle anyone – even those we see as our opponents? Absolutely. We have a choice.
We are all human. If we choose to put people down as a matter of routine, that’s ugly. When political debate has deteriorated to nothing but name-calling, and negative labelling, that’s ugly. We can appreciate beauty and decency only when we expect it from others and give it ourselves.
As yesterday’s news again confirmed, we cannot completely control the decisions nor culture that surrounds them but we are the ingredients that make them up. When we remember our roles in shaping them, we can promote the values and the beauty that we admire in them.
We need to unfix our ideas of ugliness and beauty. We must search for inclusive values and beauty, even in that which we find unappealing. Instead of being appalled at the current plague of ‘ugliness’ we should elevate humanity, with a more dignified vision and wider concept of what we consider beautiful.
Whatever the motive of Matsys, I don’t think it was spurred on by kindness. But we can look at this image now and from it, we can discover profound and important insights into the world around us – reflections that might make the hideous become beautiful.