Last Night’s TV – Ugly Beauty

by Lynn Connolly

ugly beauty.
Confucius say, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” No, this isn’t a review of last night’s appearance on the X Factor by Susan Boyle – I’m sorry but the woman gets on my nerves – but it was one of the opening lines of Ugly Beauty on BBC2.

The gist of the programme was the question of whether modern art’s beautiful or not. Why would anyone ask? Well, I don’t know, and frankly, being something of a philistine, I don’t care.

To say this programme was boring would be analogous to saying Herod wasn’t the best babysitter in the world. Within minutes, I’d lost the will to live and by the end, was seriously considering nipping out to the garage to see if we had any hanging rope.

Granted, I am easily bored by arty fartyness, and it was in abundance in this show. I’m also at a loss to understand the appeal of some forms of ‘modern art’ such as exhibits at the Tate of piles of bricks or paintings made of poo. I don’t get it. And frankly, I think a great deal of art – modern or otherwise – is simply taking the p**s.

I recall watching one of those send-up shows once where the team – I can’t quite remember who fronted it or what the show was called now – but the upshot was, they gave a chimp a few pots of paint and a canvas. They then showed the result to what were supposed to be some of the world’s top art critics, and they all, to a man, rhapsodised about the depth of feeling in the piece and the hidden meaning.

Well that just about summed it up for me, and, philistine I may be, but unless I can look at a thing and find it pleasing, it’s not good art. End of.

And that’s a statement for which art critic Waldemar Januszczak may be inclined to purchase a gun and pursue me with it over. He’s passionate – and for passionate, one might read, ‘mental’ – about modern art. He reckons that it’s, “ugly, corrupt and out to shock. And I’m here to defend the art of today and to find beauty in it.”

So he set off to Venice to attempt to do just that. We looked at the “beauty of emptiness” and to be fair, the lake at which he attempted to demonstrate that point was indeed beautiful, shrouded as it was in mist and looking very romantic. Turner painted it and very pretty it was too.

And we had to look at Anish Kapoor’s mirrored sculptures, which are, it seems, designed to induce a sense of emptiness. So does a used can of beans, but I wouldn’t pay to look at that either.

Along the way, we also had Yoko Ono telling us that her art sends out a “vibe” which, she assured us, “is like a vibe of peace to the universe.” Erm, ok. And naturally, we had to witness Damien Hirst – who I honestly think sniggers all the way to the bank – waxing lyrical about beauty and art in death and corpses. Fun times.

Near the end, Januszczak began a discourse about the pointlessness and inexplicable ‘beauty’ in some forms of modern art, and said, “In an over explained world, what could be more precious than the inexplicable?”

Er… what? Inexplicable is why Jeremy Kyle’s on telly. Inexplicable is how come Jedward lasted as long as they did. Inexplicable is the frightening prospect that David Cameron might actually come to power, but a turd in a glass case? That’s not inexplicably beautiful, it’s a p**s take.

So to conclude, if you want to die of boredom, watch this film. If on the other hand you choose life, don’t watch it on iPlayer catch up.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.