To me, the term “ugly” conveys such conditions as highly unattractive, repugnant, even repulsive. By contrast, the term “beautiful” suggests its opposite—something highly attractive, stunningly appealing, imbued with qualities of harmony, symmetry, and grace.
So, how could I view something ugly as beautiful? Well, from my perspective as a social ecologist, conservation biologist, and environmental advocate, I frequently encounter aspects of nature many if not most people perceive as ugly. Examples include slugs, snakes, spiders, swamps, much of the invertebrate kingdom, most particularly the biting and stinging kind like wasps and mosquitoes, and more. To me, none of these subjects of nature is any more intrinsically ugly or beautiful than a panda bear, an eagle, a spectacular sunset, or instances of our own kind.
To me, what makes them ugly or beautiful is the quality of their expression. I view beauty and ugliness as inherent potentials in any natural form. What determines for me the aesthetic outcome is a wide diversity of factors reflecting their prevailing condition including: qualities of order, symmetry, harmony, and grace; the capacity to engender curiosity, imagination, exploration, invention, and creativity; the state of their aliveness, animation, dynamic balance, and fecundity; and their imperfect striving after an ideal. In effect, for me discerning beauty in nature must be inspiring and instructive. The condition of ugliness, by contrast, deadens and diminishes my sense of hope, desire, and physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
—Stephen Kellert, the Tweedy Ordway Professor of Social Ecology, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies