Mediocre Art

I subscribe to a Canadian magazine called Uppercase (for the creative and curious).  It’s about all kinds of creative things like letterpress, painting, fabric art, illustration, quilting, folk art, you name it.  Anything creative and artsy, it gets talked about in Uppercase.  The magazine is also generally a place for emerging visual artists to get “seen,” even if on a quarter page.  I love this magazine!  Issue 42 features an artist named Anika Lacerte who specializes in prints that deliver the message to “persevere through making a lot of art even when it doesn’t seem ‘good.’”  For instance, Lacerte’s print that is featured in Uppercase reads: “May you allow yourself to make lots of mediocre art.” 

One thing I have noticed since taking painting classes for the last couple years is that beginning and intermediate painters, including myself, tend to think that making a single “bad” painting means you are not capable of making a good one.  And that, therefore, you will not ever make a good painting in the future.  There’s a sense of panic that can set in when a piece isn’t going well, or when you make mistakes that have sort of compromised the thing.  But as one of my teachers always says, you have to make mistakes to improve as an artist. 

We all know this, but sometimes it IS difficult to keep in mind.  It must be something about the fact that things we MAKE feel like they are part of us–  represent us, or our capacities–  and when something is mediocre, then WE might feel mediocre.  I recently was working on a pretty simple watercolor of a notebook and a coffee mug, just a quick study, really.  But I made some less than ideal decisions about the composition, and about the elements surrounding the primary objects in the painting.  It turned out to be kind of bleh.  And it’s true, I got a little bummed out about it.  But the very next painting I made, which had a different subject matter, I was able to build upon and adjust my decisions about composition etc., specifically because that first painting had turned out a bit mediocre.  And the second one really did turn out to be much more satisfying and “successful” from a compositional stand point, etc.  Maybe what we ought to remind ourselves is that the more “bad” art we make, the better chance we have at making “good” art, actually, in whatever form or discipline.  Also, we tend to forget that even masters of certain forms, people who are respected and even “renowned” in their craft, sometimes discard an unsuccessful canvas, or ditch a poem that just didn’t blossom into a real gem.  In fact, they do this a lot more than we might expect.  Again, we kind of know this, and it should be obvious if we think about it for a moment–  but we need to remind ourselves more often that this is the case.  So–  a shout out again to Anika Lacerte, for this fantastic truism.  May we allow ourselves to keep making ALL the art that we make.