Ugliness is just fear.
I took a workshop with John Jaspers a few months ago and he referred to Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory, by paraphrasing that the experience of ugliness is directly related to fear. And that beauty only exists as a contrast to ugly; as a response. We used this as a foundation for an exercise. The assignment was to address something we are afraid of and manifest “ugly” in relationship to that. Or more pointedly: dig in a sandbox you don’t like to dig in.
For Jasper’s assignment I listed my fears and chose a few to focus on. (listing your fears in a matter of fact fashion is a worthy exercise on its own. I highly recommend it). I focused on my fears instead of the word ugly. This seemed to be the goal of the exercise and I find it easier to locate the things I fear than to concoct an idea of ugly. It made me realize that I rarely use the term ugly. I placed my voice at the center of the exercise. And combined it with an unpunctuated movement state: un-awkward, non humorous, unpunctuated movement. I drew up a quick study in which the vocalizations and the movements did not respond to one another. They stayed on separate tracks. And when I performed it I realized it actually pointed to another set of fears: non-communication, compartmentalization and repression. We all have long lists of fears. Some we can name easily and some we can’t bear to write down, artistic and personal fears that bleed into one another. I appreciated Jasper’s push for us to create a rigorous artistic response as opposed to a simple confession.
I found this conversation and this assignment interesting.
Beauty/Ugliness is a complicated discussion point often at the center of heated debates: how we each define these things and what we do with the information. But fear is personally palpable.
If we think something is ugly – is it just triggering a fear? I can get behind that theory. When we are searching for beauty are we running from our fears? Maybe but that seems a bit cynical.
So digging in the sandbox of your fears – what does that do? I both loathe and love the challenge of doing so. But I sincerely loved watching the short studies that came from each dancer in the workshop. The dancers performances were -in my opinion- quite beautiful. Beautiful because they showed vulnerability and struggle; they were full of questions that hadn’t been worked out and they were so specific to the individual performing them. And these are things I find quite beautiful.
A few weeks later I had a voice lesson with Mike. My husband is a singer and a voice teacher. Every now and then I ask him for a lesson. “The difference between breathing without sound and breathing with sound is simply the decision to do so. The place where we make that decision (to sing or speak) is the same place in the brain that houses all our memories and all our emotions.”
I’ve never asked him how he learned that, what scientist revealed that or what study proved it. It makes perfect sense to me. I want to believe it and I know that information can really help me.
I’ve always put my body forward with abandon, studying methods of opening and releasing, yearning to perform and be seen, to make dances and share them widely. But I’ve never been quick to speak in public. I’ve learned to move through it as a teacher, but I have some blockades to dismantle as a performer. And my singing hang-ups are specific and raw. I know where they come from but it’s not easy to face it. Singing directly into these memories and these tight areas of my voice has been a fascinating process. On the other hand I do sing freely for my son. He is seven now and I’ve been singing him to sleep every night since his birth. He thinks I have a fantastic voice. To him it’s the sound of love. With him it is uncomplicated.