A strange kind of beautiful is inspired by these words:

“What strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is good.” ~Leo Tolstoy.

mixed media portrait - A strange kind of beautiful

“A strange kind of beautiful”, mixed media in Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook.

(This post was previously published in March 2017.)

Titles for paintings are not easy to find, especially when there is no background as in many of my portraits, and the story behind the painting is only in my head.

Developing a story behind the portrait

I like to see the painting evolve especially when I manage to push through the ugly stage and bring the portrait to a more pleasing result. A painting is just so many layers of change while I get to know the person emerging on paper or on canvas.  And as I paint, I think of the person and what she might be telling me. Each painting is a discovery of some kind.

Do you try to imagine the subject’s thoughts as your portrait develops?

Is she about to do something her parents would disapprove of? What exactly is going on behind those innocent eyes?

How can I relate those thoughts in a few words?  The title should give the viewer a clue don’t you think?  Artists, (and I imagine writers as well), struggle to find the title that will fit the art.

She might be a good girl, or maybe not.

She may just be deceiving me (and you) with her lovely eyes. Behind the loveliness are strange, perhaps evil thoughts.

Popular impressions about beautiful people

But so many articles tell us that we are most likely to trust beautiful people.

For instance, employers make a decision about potential new hires within the first minute.  How do they make that decision?

The Surprising Power of a Beautiful Face in Psychology Today Canada (Dec. 2014), explains the power of the first impression based on beauty.

Its power, it is suggested, lies in the stories we tell ourselves “a subjective experience colored by the unconscious and by the culture at large.”

Examples of these stories exist.

The article in Psychology Today outlines one such popular story we have all heard: the one about the beautiful woman who avoids a speeding ticket because she is pretty.

According to several studies conducted in the 70s, more is expected from attractive people – they are thought to be more successful, happier, better at holding a job, more altruistic, etc.

In fact, the study suggests that once the impression is rooted in our minds, we forgive many transgressions.

Writers have great material for their novels in these beliefs.

Tolstoy, however, is not alone in thinking that we deceive ourselves in assuming that what is beautiful is necessarily good.

Many other writers have expressed similar feelings.

“You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, something not everyone knows how to love.” – Warsan Shire.

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.” – Charles Beaudelaire.

“It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character in art.” – Walter Hagen.

Finally, I leave the last words of this post to Virginia Woolf.

For the eye has this strange property: it rests only on beauty. “

2 Responses

  • Beautifully written Louise and interesting. I’ve always been subconsciously aware that beautiful people are often favoured. I love your painting.

    • Jan, I remember those studies from the 70’s which the professor showed us in a Communications class at university. I thought it strange that the fairly recent article in Psychology Today was referring to dated research, but I suppose the conclusions reached in the studies are still valid today. Thank you for reading my post and leaving a comment. Cheers!

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