Tag Archive: cute

It’s been almost two years since I first looked at the role of cute in aesthetics (where does the time go?). I think it’s about time to revisit the subject.
A good work that looks at this idea of cute is the book Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism by Daniel Harris. Harris makes it quite clear that in his opinion, cuteness has no relation to the attractive, but instead is more closely related to the grotesque. He feels that the grotesque is cute because it is pitiable, and it is pity that provokes our sympathy, making cute things desirable. For Harris cute has more to do with a quality something lacks than a quality it has. There’s a neediness to cute that we find touching and appealing as opposed to unsightly.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with Mr. Harris. Certainly there is an element of neediness involved in the cute. Little puppies and kittens are so cute because they can’t really fend for themselves yet. I think it’s more his use of the word “grotesque” in connection with cuteness that I object to. Yes, we’ve all seen things that are so ugly they’re cute. But that’s not the case with everything. The definition of grotesque according to dictionary.com is: “odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.” I suppose by this definition the cute does kind of fit. But “grotesque” generally has such negative connotations, while “cute” is generally seen as positive. But maybe that’s why Harris uses that word – to make us realize that the cute is not universally positive, especially when it is used as a ploy to get people to buy things they don’t really need.
One phrase from that definition of grotesque has really stuck out to me: “fantastically absurd.” To me this does seem almost directly related to cute. I mean how many times have you seen something cute and said or thought, “That is just ridiculously cute,” or something along those lines? In a way the cute really is fantastically absurd. There’s something about the cute that seems almost unreal, and I think that’s another way in which the cute appeals to us.

This is ridiculously cute.

This is ridiculously cute.

I think there is an interesting intersection between the cute and the grotesque currently occurring in some art and just in pop culture in general. Artists like Jordan Elise Perme and her Horrible Adorables capture this collaboration well.
Creature Twins by Jordan Perme.

Creature Twins by Jordan Perme.

It’s possible that this is a reaction against the past. An example Harris discusses in his book is how throughout the 20th century the teddy bear progressively became less bear-like (original teddy bears were based on taxidermic specimens) and more moon-faced and plump, which made them more inviting and huggable. But this turn away from realism in animals can be found other places as well. For example Mickey Mouse has become less mouse-like than his original iteration. But there does seem to be a turn away from this phenomenon these days. An example of this is the new design of Chuck E. Cheese that occurred last year. The old Chuck E. Cheese was similar to Mickey Mouse in that he hardly looked like the animal he’s supposed to be. This new Chuck E. Cheese is definitely much more rodent-like.
I suppose whether or not cute belongs in aesthetics could be up for debate. But this almost simultaneous popularity of cute and the turning away from it seems important and worth a closer examination. The cute should not just be dismissed.


Mistaken Beauty

           One of the first things we were asked to write about in my aesthetics class was a time when we either thought something was beautiful and later came to realize it wasn’t, or came to find something we didn’t find beautiful, beautiful.  At the time I couldn’t really think of a good answer, so I’ve decided to revisit it.  I’m not saying I’ll definitely come up with a good answer, but I’ll try.

            I can think of a few instances where I got to see pieces of art I may have seen in class in person and found them much more impressive than I did originally.  But that’s not really the same.  I’m really having trouble thinking of something, and I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard.  All I can really think of is pigs.  I used to be fairly indifferent to pigs but then when I got to see the little baby pot-bellied pigs in person I completely fell in love with them.  Now I think pigs, especially lil pigs are just so cute.  But then again that goes back to my post a couple of weeks ago about cute vs. beauty so it still might not be the same thing.

            The answer I gave in class was ancient art.  I used to not really care about or be very interested in ancient art.  But after taking two ancient art classes (Islamic Art, which wasn’t all ancient stuff, but a lot of it was, and Ancient Mesopotamian Art) I definitely saw it in a new light.  I’m not sure if I found it more beautiful though.  I think I just found it more interesting and appreciated it more after learning about it.  But I think it’s the closest I’ve come to not finding something beautiful originally and then changing my mind. 

            Certainly when it comes to people there have been times I found someone attractive at first, but then found them less appealing after getting to know them better.  Nice outsides can only cover ugly insides so much.  So I am familiar with the disappointment that goes along with discovering that mistake.  But I can’t really think of a specific thing.

            Well, since I still can’t really think of a great answer, I’ll open the question up to you dear readers.  Has there been a time you realized something you once dismissed was beautiful after all?  Has there been a time when you found something you once thought beautiful not to be so at all?

The Cute Conundrum

          As I sit here playing fetch with an almost frustratingly eager to please Labrador I am once again confronted with cute.  I’ve been thinking a lot about cute lately, after starting my new job, and trying to figure out its place in aesthetics.  I’m not sure any philosophers have tackled cute, but I will try.  Certainly cute is pleasing.  Most people would rather look at cute than ugly.  But it’s not the same as beauty – just ask someone who’s been called cute instead of beautiful.  They seem very similar, but yet somehow worlds apart.  I feel certain that Kant would dismiss cute as part of the pleasant and not the beautiful.  And maybe he’s right.  Or maybe cute is kind of a subset of the beautiful.  The cute has a way of getting to you, sometimes in a way similar to beauty.  Maybe it’s a biological thing.  Beauty may inspire art, but cute inspires nurturing.  Both can invoke a sense of wanting to capture and preserve.  When you see beauty, you want to have it. When you see cute you want to cuddle it.  Cute can melt your heart while beauty can set it aflutter. 

            But why does beauty get so much more attention than cute?  I think cute is getting more attention these days than it did previously, with websites like http://cuteoverload.com and http://icanhascheezburger.com.  But beauty still seems to be above cute in the hierarchy of things.  I suppose at its core it really could be a biological thing.  Beauty gets more attention because it’s more closely related to reproduction.  Or going the more romantic route, beauty gets more attention because it’s more closely associated with love. Not that you can’t love cute things, but it tends to be a different, less romantic, more nurturing love. 

In the end, maybe it all comes down to awe-inspiring versus aww-inspiring.  I think cute does have a place in aesthetics though, even if it’s not as highly regarded as beauty.  There is room for both of them and I think it’s time that cute claim its place. 

(photo borrowed from cuteoverload)