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Why You Need Something Ugly

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When I first saw Wil Murray’s art, I was pretty sure it was ugly.

My friend Justin Evans, the co-founder of Stresslimitdesign, had one of his pieces on his wall. I had gone over to his house, looked at the painting and thought, “I don’t think I’m smart enough for this.” Either that, or it was really ugly.

I was pretty sure it wasn’t ugly, though– both Justin and my girlfriend at the time thought it was great. It must have been me– right?

Anyway, a year later I was at a gallery in Montreal looking at his new work, and it wasn’t ugly; it was actually kind of cool.

Here’s my theory: I think you need something ugly in your life. And I don’t just mean ugly– I mean really repulsive. Something that you can’t help but be confused by, that freaks you out, or that’s just plain terrible to look at. In other words, something that challenges you.

Ugly things don’t just make you think; they also unbalance you, and connect with you emotionally over time. All of this makes you different, developing your sense of taste and what you think of as acceptable. And your being challenged is necessary to keep you growing.

Your ugly thing doesn’t need to be an object– it can also be a person. You can get someone in your life that grates on you, that makes you feel uncomfortable and challenges the things you say– someone that doesn’t believe the hype.

So here’s what I ask myself: What happened, why did I kind of like what I saw at the gallery that night? Did I change, or did the work? Probably both, right? But what happened isn’t what matters to me– only that it did happen, that I got a more nuanced understanding of the world as a result of it. I like that it happened, and I want– no, I need– more of it.

Very likely, so do you.

* Filed by Julien at 3:52 pm under random


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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7 Responses to “Why You Need Something Ugly”

  1. Sally G. Says:

    Except for the word ‘ugly’ — you have aptly expressed aspects of mindful parenting. But now that I think about it, ‘ugly’ could capture the image of yourself that you see in your mind’s mirror as you go through the process. The image you’ve bought into that you know it all, you’ve got everything to teach and nothing to learn, your vision and filters of life are the benchmarks of what is and what will be. Children are really the greatest means of getting to know your own Self – if you allow them to gently expose each and every raw area within that is not yet whole and could benefit from some reflection, paradigm shifting and healing. Sorry to have hijacked like this ~ funny how two people can look at a piece of art and see something different, yet – the same …

  2. Ben Yoskovitz Says:

    I think you can get the same effect via music.

  3. Wil Murray Says:

    When I read Marc-Antoine K. Phaneuf’s text for the exhibition at Galerie Push, and then read all the reviews, all I was left with was the impression that I was making the painting equivalent of anal sex. At first offensive, maybe a little gross and even painful…but given time can develop into something much richer and satisfying and something you desire.
    You’ve stated something similar here, but without the sex reference.
    I like this post a lot.

  4. Serge Lachapelle Says:

    Judgment is the worse thing…To think this is beautiful, this is ugly is putting one foot into hell…When one can just be in the moment…funny things happen…ugly becomes a miracle at the same level as beauty does….

    Welcome to the beauty of ugly…

  5. Hugh McGuire Says:

    Wil, that’s the best blog comment I’ve seen in a while.

  6. Wil Murray Says:

    Thanks Hugh.
    I shoot for “noticeable”(borrowed from that brand of air fresheners that switch their scent every 24 hours so you never get used to them, or always know they are working).

  7. Megan matthieson Says:

    Yes! I have a Robbie Conal print- a rendering of Clarence Thomas- and it says… Gag me with a long dong condom. I bought it years ago at an auction. It’s repulsive but makes me feel very on edge- which is brill. Pretty sure it puts others on edge as well. Ha!

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