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.

The Ugliness in Beauty and the Beauty in Ugliness

I thought about continuing last week’s study of love and apathy, there is so much to think about and explore, but I decided I’ll let that simmer as I continue through my planned overview of the big five. This week I’m looking at the ugliness in beauty and the beauty in ugliness.

Remember back in January when I was going to put a word on the world every day? Like this: A fish-eye lens view of the lake and sky with the word "WONDER" in orange floating in the clouds.

Probably not, like many of my exciting ideas, it didn’t last long before I moved on to the next exciting idea. However, yesterday, while pondering this week’s contradictory abstractions and how to capture the ugliness in beauty and the beauty in ugliness, I remembered these words, and found Beauty in the box of plastic filters. When I was originally putting words on the world, I used my fisheye lens which won’t work with bokeh. This time, I tried my zoom lens and got the result I wanted.

Five textured light circles with the word Beauty written in cursive in their centers.
Full of Beauty by Maria L. Berg 2022

I can’t believe it took me this long to try this. I looked back at January’s posts and found a comment in my post Unlocking New Doors that seems to say that I tried it, but it didn’t work, but I think I was focused on the fisheye lens and trying to make the fisheye work with the zoom lens, so I could increase its distance. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of the words themselves as shape filters.

I think it took reading The Last Vispo, becoming interested in text and type as visual poetry, and my more recent discovery of the negatives of my filters also making great filters (which I talk about in my post Thinking About August) to finally realize that I can combine my word filters with my shape filters.

So, of course, I had to make one that said “Ugly,” and took some pictures.

Pretty Ugly by Maria L. Berg 2022

New Poem

For today’s Poetics at dVerse Poets Pub, Merril invites us to spice things up by choosing a few spices from her list. I recently picked and dried (baked) my own herbs to refill my Italian Seasoning container. The process was aromatic and the result, delicious.

In Search of a Spicy Muralist

A Mural Of Flavor—
blankness redefined
What palette do you offer?
What shapes to delight
this mind?

Ginger, first to answer
with fire atip her tongue
wisps Arizona Dreaming
in acrid cactus tones
but when pressed for any detail
she feels pricked and leaves for home

Basil was a little green
but did not shy from leafing out
He proposed a Tuscany Sunset
and all that it’s about
but when asked for some specifics
of what that would entail,
he curled up inside himself just like
a little snail

I thought about the mustard seed
and how it grew and grew
how it was tiny but then spread out
and how I could do that too
So I made a mark
then many more
and filled the blank
with every flavor
and some that had never been before
here for everyone to savor

Day Two: Beauty Tips

Beauty by Maria L. Berg 2022

Beauty

Dictionary.com defines beauty as “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).” Notice that it says the quality is present in the thing or person, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so wouldn’t a better definition be “a quality perceived to be present in a thing or person?” And where do these perceptive filters of beauty come from?

This morning I searched images of “beauty” on the internet and saw photograph after photograph of heavily made-up young women. Beauty is an industry, an ever-shifting unattainable ideal to sell cosmetics, fad diets, and lifestyle products. And sadly, that industry manipulates people into such a desire for that ideal that they will mutilate themselves and destroy their health.

But that is superficial beauty. For my abstraction of beauty, I tried bokeh with my 70-400 zoom lens for the first time. I used my snowflake-cut lens cover filters I created last fall in the mirrorworld and found intense pleasure and deep satisfaction in the overlapping colors and patterns.

A Quiet Beauty by Maria L. Berg 2022

Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS)

Today’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness is “tip.” Linda challenges us to use the word “tip” as a noun or verb. Here’s a quote from my morning pages this morning:

The tip of my pen caresses the page. I touch the tip of my nose with my fingertip. Where is the tipping point? When beauty tips. That’s a fun play on words. Here’s a tip: if truth is beauty and beauty truth; just stop lying. The next tip was on the tip of my tongue, but got stuck in my teeth. At the tip, tippy top, there’s nowhere to go but down, and make sure the tips of your skis don’t cross.

Maria L. Berg 2022
Natural Beauty by Maria L. Berg 2022

The Poetry Prompts

NaPoWriMo

Today’s challenge is to write a poem based on a word featured in a tweet from Haggard Hawks, an account devoted to obscure and interesting English words.

I especially liked the lists of terms, like names for groves of trees “A SAPBUSH is a grove of maple trees,” and names for sounds that birds make “To GLACITATE is to honk like a goose.” Since I saw a swallow swooping over the deck yesterday, I chose “To CHELIDONIZE is to chirp like a swallow.” Chelidonize can also mean to beg.

Poem A Day

Today’s prompt is to write a second chance poem.

The Poem

Beauty Tips

When beauty tips
where is the tipping point?
Which wrinkle in the
symmetrical features
breaks the illusion?
Is it the crooked tooth
in the blaring white smile
The slight scar across the bridge
or the broken spirit
The pitch and timbre
or the words
The smell of the breath
or the skin
The taste of the kiss
or the cooking?

When beauty tips
like a swallow
swooping steeply
chelidonizing about
my doors
instead of skimming
along the waves
filled with ribbons
of gold light dancing
like a mating dance
of tiny electric eels,
we have passed
the tipping point.

When beauty tips
what is the angle
of skewed reflection?
Which derivative of
ideal surface blinds?
Will the faulty be given
a second chance to see:
The generosity behind
the crooked smile
The courage responsible
for the scar
The sharp wit
inside those tones
The chemistry and history
ritual and tradition
depth and knowledge
beneath?