On the Joys of Making Bad Art

Since the crash, my fiction writing has been hit or miss. Drawing, however, has become a daily habit.

I’ve never been exceptionally gifted – or, indeed, gifted at all – in drawing. I’ve also never been particularly skilled at it, because I have so rarely practiced. And during the period of my life in which I got interested enough to practice daily, I also encountered an art teacher who announced loudly, while “fixing” one of my projects to suit herself, “You really can’t draw!”

I regret the literal decades in which I did not practice drawing, thanks to those four words. (Though I did write that teacher a nice poem a few years later, which appeared in the Muskegon River Review.)

Since the crash, words have been hard. Hard enough that even with my lack of practice or skill, drawing has appealed to me as a more accessible and expressive language for my situation.

It’s still not good. In fact, I often make fun of my nightly drawings in the same journal in which I am drawing them. A drawing of my soap and washcloth, one day after a shower (a Herculean feat when one has only one weight-bearing limb), is captioned “Am I improving yet?”

This morning, I decided to practice shading – the particular skill my long-ago art teacher was criticizing when she announced I “really can’t draw.” It is, of course, still bad some 25 years later.

Those intervening 25 years and a successful writing career, however, have taught me things about the nature of bad art.

Image: Colored pencils arranged to form a heart, surrounding the blog post title and URL.

Bad art is inevitable, at least at the beginning.

Bad art is necessary; it teaches us how to make good art.

Bad art is fun. It’s a free space. There’s no standard the art has to live up to; the art is a success merely because it exists, no matter how bad it is.

This morning, I realized: Bad art is also a gift to my future self.

I’m drawing now because it’s helping me express ideas and feelings that, as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, “the words don’t reach.” But I’m also drawing for my future self, the one who has better drawing skills than I do today because I did the work to draw today.

I’m looking forward to looking back at these drawings in a year, or five years, or 25 years. I want to see how far I’ve come. I want to see how far regular practice will take me.

Maybe the answer is “not far.” Maybe in five years, the response to my drawings will still be “you really can’t draw!” I don’t care.

My art teacher made several mistakes in telling thirteen year old me that I could not draw. Of them, the biggest mistake was assuming that I drew for any audience other than myself. She assumed, wrongly, that her opinion mattered.

At 13, I also assumed, wrongly, that her opinion mattered. I went on assuming that for a long time. Fortunately, the intervening 25 years have also taught me to discern whose opinions matter – especially when it comes to something so personal and so freeing as making bad art.

Make bad art. Buy me a coffee. Share this post. ❤