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The Beauty of Ugly Art

Updated: Feb 2

L - "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man) painted in 1930 by Elías García Martínez

R - "Ecce Homo 2.0" 2012 "restored" by Cecilia Giménez, 85, an amateur artist who holds the painting dear.


In my weekly painting classes, new students register each month and paint alongside students who have been painting with me for nine years. We are all on a journey to go from the artist we are to the artist we want to be. I'm a little further along on my journey because I started sooner, so I act as a guide, cheerleader, instructor, and creative awakener to this talented and creative group, the Creative Spirits.

It never fails, however, when a new student starts painting that I hear the low tones of whispered grumbles. "I can't paint." "This is ugly." "Help me, this looks awful." To which I respond with a "walk-around," a stroll from student to student to see where they are in the process and how they are developing their paintings. And to date, I'm happy to report I've never seen a piece of ugly art come out of this class. Never.

I've seen art that isn't completed yet. I've seen art that is original and doesn't resemble mine. I've seen artists who are brand new to painting and creating the art they are meant to paint at this leg of the journey.... brand new artist art. I've seen precious souls who want to run before they learn to walk and beat themselves up because they aren't ready, and their painting doesn't look like the artists' work sitting next to them. I've seen new students who have given up before they've even gotten off to a good start. But I've never once seen ugly art.

My first book of sheet music "Teaching Little Fingers to Play." The first song I learned to play by reading music "Birthday Party" (Had previously learned by heart to play the low end of "Heart and Soul" with my mother)

When I was in the third grade, Mrs. Franks moved next door and began teaching piano lessons. My lessons were at 4pm on Monday afternoons and lasted 30 minutes. Additionally, I was expected to practice playing piano 30 minutes every day to equal three hours each week. Do you know how long 30 minutes at the piano feels like to a 9-year-old???

Yet five years later at the audition for the Guild, I was playing Spinning Song, Fur Elise, the theme from "Love Story" and others. (To this day I have no idea what "the Guild" is or why I was dismissed from school to go play piano for people I've never met before, but I did get a couple of beautiful lapel pins to commemorate the moment)

I don't play piano anymore. It was never really a passion, just a passing curiosity. But if I ever got the notion to pick it up again, all it would take would be a few lessons and lots and lots of practice to be able to play again.


No one is born knowing how to play piano and no one is born knowing how to paint. It's a skill anyone can learn. But everyone, and I mean everyone, improves with lessons and practice. That doesn't mean a canvas doesn't end up in the rubbish bin every now and then, even to this day. All that means is you are trying something new, stretching yourself, your skills, your ideas, your creativity and you are not ready to unveil it to the world. It's ok to throw away a painting and give yourself a "do-over." I even know artists who host "ugly art" parties and invite their friends to come burn their least favorite paintings. (But you can always paint over them! Don't be wasteful)

L to R - Pet Portraits I painted in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2023. I love to see the evolution of style in my works as well as in every other painter's works.


And they paint lovely paintings. Hold all things in divine order and paint the paintings you are meant to paint where you are right now.


My beloved grandfather R. Spurgeon Jones attended the Art Institute of Baltimore in the early 1920's. I've only seen two paintings of his, and I dearly love them both. Not necessarily adored for their aesthetic beauty, which is truly lovely and indicative of where he was in his art journey, but mostly because of my love of him. Granddaddy was a unique man, a Renaissance man, an inventor and holder of two patents, an entrepreneur, an engineer during WWII, a fisherman, a painter. He taught me how to clean a crappy and roll a cigarette by the age of three. It may not have been appropriate looking back, but it was a different time, and I adored him.

Still Life paintings by R. Spurgeon Jones, c1920, at the Art Institute of Baltimore


I love all types of art, like I love all types of people, food, music, history, etc. Yet there is a ranking of art I like best (and people, food, music, history, etc.) Impressionism is by far my favorite style of art, American Impressionism to be exact. But I also love French Impressionism, and many other styles including whatever it was Freida Kahlo painted, I don't particularly care for Pre-Raphaelite or Renaissance-style art or anything in the vein of Bob Ross or Thomas Kinkade (sorry, gentlemen). However, I am envious of their commercial success. Someone likes their art enough for them to build empires from it.

And I know quite a few people who don't like my art. They may like me (or not), but just not particularly fond of my painting style. It happens. Can't please everyone.

Is this beautiful art??

"A Reasonable Facsimile" by Authur Dove, c1942 at the Art Institute of Chicago

Someone thinks so. but it just didn't measure up, in my humble opinion, to the works of Claude Monet, John, Singer Sargent, George Inness, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Antonio Mancini, Edward Potthast, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam and all the wonderful impressionist painters whose works were beside it in the Art Institute of Chicago.


In 2012, Cecilia Giménez, an amateur art restorer in the small village of Borja, Spain, turned her attention to restoring "Ecce Homo," a 1930 painting of Jesus Christ by Elías García Martínez.

When I first saw the painting on the network morning news, my heart sank. At first it sank over the loss of what I thought was an even older painting, And then it sank when I learned the woman who "restored" the painting did so earnestly, with love and sincere, intense conviction. Bless her heart.

It can happen. After all she wasn't painting her own painting in her own style. She was attempting to restore another artist's work in his style which is completely different than her own. She possessed all the best intentions.

And then she became a laughingstock. ...Of the world. Oh, dear, sweet Cecilia, I'm so, so sorry.

But there are at least two lessons to be learned here.


When the news broke, Mrs. Giménez claims she had only begun a part of the restoration before leaving on a vacation and intended to finish it upon her return but was stopped by the church officials who had employed her to restore the fresco.

Enter any artist studio today and you will find painting after painting that is not signed.... a clear indication the artist is not happy with the result and has set it aside to view again with fresh eyes at a later date. It's not ugly, it's just not finished. The painting process has many steps and each artist decides for him/herself what those steps are in their process. It never hurts to set a painting down for even one day and revisit it later with fresh eyes.



Today, tourists can't get enough of Ecco Homo 2.0. Since 2012 hundreds of thousands of visitors have descended upon the Sanctuary of Mercy to get selfies with the painting, meet the artist, and to spend lots and lots of money on souvenirs and merchandise. bolstering the little town's economy. The curiosity has led to this boom in tourism that’s allowed restaurants and museums in Borja, population 5,000, to remain stable during Spain’s crippling recession.

Tourists pay 1 euro per person to enter the church for viewing, and all proceeds go to a church-affiliated nursing home. Fifty-one percent of the proceeds from souvenir sales go to the nursing home, while 49 percent go to Giménez, who uses the money to care for her 56-year-old son, José Antonio, who has cerebral palsy according to an article by Zachary Kussin in the New York Post.

“Now, I look [at the painting and think,] ‘It’s OK, you’re not that ugly,’ ” Mrs. Giménez says. “I hold it so dear — to the point that I see him as handsome!”

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