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Make Bad Art

Written By Allie Sullberg | Mar 30, 2022

You know the feeling when you open up an old sketchbook or find a really old piece of art you made and think “wow, I thought this was a masterpiece when I made it. It’s so bad!” Most of us have experienced that feeling before, and it turns out, it’s a really good thing. You might feel the urge to beat yourself up about having made something “bad” or ugly in the past, but it’s actually a reason to celebrate. This is a sign of growth.

I’ve experienced many periods of time where I lacked inspiration or felt a “creative block.” Like, no matter how hard I tried, it would be impossible to draw or come up with an idea. Even worse, fear of making a mistake, making something ugly, making something that might reveal my lack of creativity or experience, making something that’s been made before, has kept me from trying to make at all.

I was relieved of a lot of this fear, and set free to create, when someone shared Sol Lewitt’s famous letter to Eva Hesse with me. These two artists were corresponding about Hesse’s creative block. He wrote to her:

“Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT.”

The concept of TRYING to make BAD work completely changed the way I approached my creative process. By releasing the pressure of creating a masterpiece during each creative session, I started having more fun, trying new mediums, and relieving myself of poor technique and taste.

I started to accept that I’d have to make a lot of bad art before I get to the good stuff. This idea fuels and excites me to keep creating. I can’t wait to look back at the work I’m creating today and think “wow, my work has come a long way. I’ve really improved since I made this!”

Many people have the same childhood experience, where they were trying their best, having a ton of fun drawing or painting, when an adult or classmate told them that something they made was bad or sub-par. This childhood experience trains people to think that “practice is perfect” rather than “practice makes perfect”. The problem with this logic is that nothing you make when you are practicing can actually be bad, because practice is a space where you are free to make mistakes. And you know what? Let’s strike the “perfect” and leave it at “practice makes.” When we practice as artists, we make. Isn’t that enough? You could even go a step further and say “practice makes mistakes.”

Next time someone else (or more likely your inner voice) tells you your art is bad, kindly respond “bitch I know it’s bad. It’s practice.”

Another way to think about this: the creative block doesn’t exist if you don’t let it. Writer Joyce Carol Oates has shared that she believes that writer’s block is a myth. She combats writer’s block with discipline, by sitting down to write every day, no matter what. (I recommend this interview with her on Tim Ferriss’s podcast.)

“If you feel that you just can’t write or you’re too tired or this, that, and the other, just stop thinking about it, and go and work. Life doesn’t have to be so overthought. You don’t have to wait to be inspired. Just start working.”
– Joyce Carol Oates

Set yourself up with the tools you need in order to say “not today!” to your creative block. Need to be more disciplined drawing but struggling with self-doubt? Hang your favorite inspirational quote above your desk or favorite spot to draw, bring your notebook and drawing supplies everywhere, and stop treating your sketchbook like it’s precious. Your sketchbook is a place to make mistakes. Practice makes mistakes.

This article originally appeared on Allie’s blog.

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