For February's issue of our local independent newspaper PULP (I know, it's almost April...I'm so behind.), I talked a little about one of my favorite subjects: ugly art. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you've heard a lecture or two on the importance of letting go of our self-imposed expectations of creating a masterpiece and just enjoying the process of art making as its own end. We all need a little reminding from time to time, so this one's for both of us.
Why Bad Art is Good (part 1)
by Debra Cooper
There is something about facing a blank canvas or blank sheet of paper that can be paralyzing, regardless of how many times you've faced it before. Whether it is the overwhelming sense of too many possibilities or the fear of not being good enough, just getting started is often the most difficult creative hurdle to be crossed. Yet, even when you manage to put pen or brush to paper, there are other creative demons waiting for their chance to send you packing. As soon as you feel yourself warming up to the task, whispers of doubt will inevitably drift in. It starts innocently enough (“You don't have time for this. There are so many other things you need to be doing”), but the clamor becomes more insidious as you push the thoughts away to focus on the creative work at hand (“You can't do this, you don't have what it takes. This is stupid/ugly/pointless. No one else will like it. You will never be a real artist.”) And you are not alone in this struggle. Every artist, regardless of their perceived success, will wrestle daily with similar fears and doubts as long as they are pushing themselves to grow as artists. But having such fears isn't the problem, it is giving into them.
Realistically, you probably will not be the next Pablo Picasso. But so what? This fact doesn't let you off the hook. The creative impulse inside you is there for a reason. Your job is not to understand it but to be faithful to it. Your job is simply to show up and do the work. What happens after that is beyond your control. So how do you gain the confidence to face the blank canvas, the voices of fear and doubt, the perfectionist within? By embracing failure and giving yourself permission to create something ugly. Despite what you have been told, ugly art is good. Ugly art says, “Instead of pretending I am creative because I spent all morning on Pinterest, I showed up and did the work.” To make good art, you first have to make bad art. And even when good art becomes the norm, there will still be days when nothing turns out like you thought it would and you're tempted to toss it all in the recycle bin. But don't do it. That crappy art you're holding in your hand is precious. It is evidence that you are on a path of growth.
Thankfully, embracing the Ugly is easy and it starts with not taking yourself too seriously. Remember how it felt as a child to scribble, to color, to create freely? Yeah, me neither. But that's because we weren't even thinking about it, it came naturally without self-consciousness. Children create for the pure joy of it and we adults can too, but it takes a little work. It takes letting go of our expectations and letting the creative process be its own end. Admire the way the paint swirls together on the palette; immerse yourself in color and ignore form; try something new without reading the instructions; make a mess and then make another mess right on top of the first; play and make having fun with art your only goal for the day. The irony is when you give yourself permission to make something ugly, you set yourself free to do your best work which will be more satisfying as a result. And satisfying work breeds confidence to push through the blocks and keep creating, and the more art you make—good or bad—the more skilled you will become.