Bad Art & The Bad Artists Who Make It

There’s an old saying. Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

As a professional creative sort, I run across a lot of professional creative sorts. I also run across a lot of people who want to be creative. There are plenty of reasons to not exercise creativity. As a professional creator, I am intimately aware of all of them. Every writer I’ve met has wrestled with self-doubt and procrastination and distraction, and we’re supposed to be good at this. So I get it. I can’t tackle every obstacle in a simple blog post, but I can pick one.

Let’s talk about bad art. Specifically, let’s talk about the fear of creating bad art.

The terrorizing possibility that someone might create bad art can be crippling. It’s understandable. Even before the internet, there was no shortage of people to tell an artist they sucked. And then the internet came along and brought about the age of mocking art criticism. There are thousands of YouTube channels devoted to tearing down bad movies, books, and TV shows. The most famous ones have actually managed to become influential, for better or worse. Most of the Disney live-action remakes seem to be made to address silly criticism memes. And there are plenty of people willing to quote a shallow criticism, mislabel something a plot hole, or simply ridicule for a cheap laugh. Not every critic is arguing in bad faith, but there is no shortage of folks willing to nitpick and deride in search of internet fame.

I’ve lost a taste for many of such critics over the years. Even the “funny” ones can perpetrate silly ideas that take hold, resulting in people willfully misreading art because they think it’s cooler to mock than enjoy something. There’s a fine line between poking fun at something and just being a jerk attacking people for daring to put themselves out there.

I heard recently something that really stuck with me. “No one sets out to make bad art.” No, that doesn’t mean that everyone is trying to create timeless masterpieces. But no one wants to make something people don’t enjoy. Even the schlockiest Sharknado film wants people to get something out of it, if only so that they’ll come back for Sharknado 10: Too Many Sharknadoes.

Part of being an artist of any type is accepting that some people are not going to like what you do. There isn’t a single piece of art that is universally beloved. I’ve already confessed that I never found Harry Potter to be particularly interesting or that I have only sat through the LotR films once, having no interest in watching any of them again. That’s not a slight to them. They are spectacularly successful in a way that I will never be, but they don’t make my Desert Island Mixtape List.

No matter how great you want it to be, no matter how great most people think it is, there is someone out there who doesn’t like it. Does this mean all art has value?

Well, sort of.

I’m not going to lie and say that all art is worthwhile. There is genuinely bad art out there. Genuinely horrifically awful art. Not “so good, it’s bad” art. Just terrible art. Or, even worse, boring art.

And despite your best efforts, you’ll probably make that art at first. That’s just the process of becoming a better artist. You make a lot of bad art, a lot of okay art, a lot of good-ish art. That’s how it works.

I’m reminded of the animated classic Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. In the film, we see a flashback to Bruce Wayne’s first night as a superhero. It doesn’t go great, but why would it? He hasn’t figured it out yet, hasn’t put all the pieces together. He doesn’t have the experience. He doesn’t have the aura of fear he needs to cultivate. He doesn’t even have the bat suit yet. He’s just some dude in black jumping out at crime.

But you have to start somewhere, right?

It’s easy for me to say this. I’m mildly successful in my field. I have plenty of critics (who doesn’t?), and I’m sure you wouldn’t have too look too far to find someone who actively hates what I do. But I also have plenty of fans and have managed to make a living at this (for the most part). To paraphrase Bo Burnham: “People like me will tell you to follow your dreams, but that’s like listening to a lottery winner. Of course, they’ll tell you to buy a ticket. It worked for them.”

Making a living as an artist isn’t easy. I can’t promise anyone that they’lll manage to do so, but I can say that the first step is making bad art. Or at least not being overly concerned with making bad art.

As a wise dog once said: Sucking at something is the first step toward being sort of good at something.

Also, making art for its own sake can be a rewarding experience, even if no one pays you for it.

So make bad art. Make okay art. Make good-ish art. Learn from it. Get better at it. Or don’t sweat it. Enjoy yourself. Take the pressure off. Who knows? You might make something great. Or something someone is willing to pay you for, which is pretty great in itself.

No promises.

Just write.

Let the universe sort the rest out.




3 Replies to “Bad Art & The Bad Artists Who Make It”

  1. Yes, exactly this. I’ve had dozens of books published, but the world will never see dozens more. You gotta pass through suck to reach competent. For years, my mantra was “I might not be good, but this thing I’m writing sucks less than the previous ones.”

    Today, some of my books still suck. But my readers disagree on which ones they are. That’s as close to victory as we can get in this business…

  2. Hey Lee! I wanted to tell you, that I really enjoyed your novel The Automatic Detective. That book and many others like it have spurred me on to write a series of SF/Noir. There just isn’t much of it out there. Maybe it’s not as popular as mainstream SF, but I’m planning on changing that. I now have 3 novels on Amazon, and have the workings for 7 more at this point. The series I have created is called Files From The IFRA. Keep up the great work!
    Joe Kelly.

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