All Bad Art is Sincere
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Oscar Wilde wrote "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." Harold Bloom paraphrased Wilde's idea as "all bad poetry is sincere." I'm learning that, in fact, bad art is also sincere and springs from genuine feeling. In the case of the painting above - done by me without any skill or ability to make a brush and paint do what I think they should do - the feeling was delightful freedom. It turns out, you can have tons of fun painting if you don't need the finished product to look like anything lovely.
This is an idea I've explored many times in my Muse Class through Spills, the muse who personifies the pleasure of process over perfection. But it wasn't until I found Flora Bowley's work that I thought to try releasing perfectionism to enjoy the pleasures of paint and canvas.
Austin Kleon helped also. He quotes Sol LeWitt who wrote, in a letter to Eva Hesse, “You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO… Try to do some BAD work - the worst you can think of and see what happens..."
I find that what happens is a sense of freedom. My method is: try it and see, paint over what doesn't work, try again, see how it sits with you, paint over what doesn't work and try again until you get the thing that makes you feel you've arrived at something. (It's all kind of vague and I usually get paint on my clothes.)
Shelley Klammer's work in expressive arts is helping me see that healing may be taking place through these forays into making bad art. In her blog post "Letter to a Young Expressive Artist," Klammer writes, “When we first discover that we can paint, draw, write or dance authentically - without the requirement for a pretty end product - it opens us up to a bright new honest world inside. It is interesting to allow your expression to be raw, messy and alive. By not covering up the "messiness" that you feel, you can start to look deeper into your emotional patterns. When you sit with the discomfort of what you have expressed, you can transform uncomfortable emotions at their root. Instead of making everything you create socially presentable, you can allow every aspect of yourself to self-express.”
Sitting with discomfort - that's part of it, too. Creating something imperfect is uncomfortable, as is sharing that imperfect creation with others. Even more uncomfortable is the recognition that the messiness coming out on a canvas isn't only because of undeveloped skill- it may actually be expressing an internal messiness. Seeing what's been hidden inside expressed in paint outside of me is sometimes like a punch in the gut. And yet there's something deeply empowering about being able to paint, dance, write, collage these things so they are visible and seen.
I apply to my painting explorations Anne Lamott's ideas about writing: "We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you'll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you've already been in. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer's job is to see what's behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words."