Do Our Ideas About Beauty and Ugliness Change When We Close Our Eyes?

Do You Hear What I Hear? by Maria L. Berg 2022

This morning I did a search for “the ugliness in beauty” and found a couple of really interesting articles:

The Biological Response to Beauty and Ugliness in Art [Excerpt] by Eric Kandel 2012 from Scientific American

Experiences of Ugliness in Nature and Urban environments by Fatima M. Felisberti from International Association of Empirical Aesthetics

The first, by Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel is an excerpt from his book called The Age of Insight. The study of art through neuroscience excites me so much, I ordered the book and it arrives on Sunday. Hopefully, it will inspire for a long time to come, so you will be hearing a lot about it. Guess we’ll find out on Sunday. For today, I want to share what I found most exciting from the Scientific American article.

“Beauty does not occupy a different area of the brain than ugliness. Both are part of a continuum representing the values the brain attributes to them, and both are encoded by relative changes in activity in the same areas of the brain. This is consistent with the idea that positive and negative emotions lie on a continuum and call on the same neural circuitry.”

This physiological connection between contradictory abstract nouns is really exciting. I wonder if this has only been studied through visual stimuli.

Yesterday I started thinking about how visual definitions of beauty and ugliness are, so today I wanted to focus on the other senses. Though beauty and ugliness are particular to the person perceiving the stimulus, are there consistencies within an individual across the senses? If someone perceives a beautiful smell, do they also find the stimulus visually beautiful? If she finds a texture uncomfortable or painful, does she find the stimulus ugly, and vice versa?

New Poem

For today’s Meeting the Bar: Critique and Craft prompt at dVerse Poets Pub, Laura Bloomsbury invites us to write in couplets. She introduces the prompt speaking of marriage which I think goes well with the physiological marriage of contradictory abstractions as laid out in Eric Kandel’s article above. I haven’t tried the Côte form before, so I thought I would give it a try.

A Movement that Married Right and Left

Become,
a fevered dreambook brimming

Survive,
a wooded area secreting

Discuss,
absolute wilderness loving

include,
visions of annihilation

predict,
variations of our ruination

until,
a poisoned well is flowing

Produce,
divided people by labeling

Attract,
all within orbits spinning

Cover,
the shadowy trails leading away

This poem was a culmination of many ideas I was playing with this week. First, a friend mentioned working on bringing meter into my free verse. Then I watched a ModPo discussion of Lorine Niedecker’s work that talked about how the she didn’t use strict meter, but created meter like bars of music. And I started reading The ABC’s of Reading by Ezra pound in which he writes:

“music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; that poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music: but this must not be taken as implying that all good music is dance music or all poetry lyric.”

So I looked at some piano music I enjoyed playing and listened to some records. Rêverie by Debussy worked with the Côte form in my mind.

At the beginning of the week, while contemplating how to look at the beauty in ugliness and the ugliness in beauty, I thought about how society and culture define physical beauty and ugliness which made be think of a stack of Playboys that were left in this house before I moved in.

I thought about the joke that men always say, “I only read it for the articles” and thought it would be interesting to use Playboy articles for blackout poetry about ugliness in beauty and beauty in ugliness.

The magazines are from 2002, so they are strange little time machines to twenty years ago. I chose the imperative verbs from words in an article called “The Death of Network News” by Bill O’Reilly and the couplets were inspired by phrases from “Virtual Reich” by Michael Reynolds.

9 thoughts on “Do Our Ideas About Beauty and Ugliness Change When We Close Our Eyes?

  1. Pingback: Do Our Ideas About Beauty And Ugliness Change When We Close Our Eyes? - A Little TOO Picture Imperfect

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