When Bad Art is Good

Words "When Bad Art is Good" stamped on mixed media background

The creative process has been on my mind a lot lately, as it tends to be when I’m feeling stuck…blocked…coming up empty. For a couple of weeks now, every time I’ve thought about creating images I’ve held my camera in my hands and wondered where to start.

What to shoot?


I sat down to consider what was going on behind the scenes, and when I took a good hard look at the thoughts I was letting swirl around in my mind, what I found was fear. Fear of bad art. I’ve been creating mixed media pieces and art journaling longer than I’ve been photographing, so I sat down and scoured through some old art journals to see what I could learn about the process.

I found this piece, and the wisdom it contained.

Mixed media journal painting

When is bad art good?  I asked myself this question as I stared at this journal page and found I was both aware of how compelling I find it and aware of how it is definitely not amongst my best work.

In the answer I found yet another question: how can art be bad if it’s gotten you to put paint on paper?
How can art be bad if you’ve been working?
As a creative it’s easy to get lost in all of the beautiful things Pinterest and Google images and 500px and flickr and so on and so forth can flash in our faces in a matter of milliseconds.

It’s easy to compare ourselves to everyone else’s best work.  

My guess is the best creatives have the biggest stack of “bad art” that sits on a shelf or in a computer file somewhere never to be seen by the masses.

Picasso said it best: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

I contend that the giant stack of “bad art” isn’t actually bad, because without it there would be no masterpieces.  The beauty in creativity lies in one’s trust in the process, in practice, in showing up to do the work.

Picasso quote stamped on mixed media background

When my hands are desperate to feel paint, when my heart sings to me about the creating I simply MUST do, I’ll grab a journal and a color or two and make a mark.
I will start somewhere.
I do not sit and wait for inspiration…I let it find me working, and it comes.
I can trust that if I show up to the process, the creativity will follow.

There will be masterpieces.
There will be garbage.

My art journals are full of things I don’t show to anyone, and so are my photo archives. But all of that “garbage” is the solid foundation upon which my best art is made, and for that reason alone I can say that I don’t believe I’ve made any “bad art”.

Even bad art is good.

Bad art is the labor pains through which the artist births herself.

So I urge you, when you’re feeling stuck, start by just putting paint to paper and trusting the process.  Let go of fear, and trust that even your worst piece is still the song of your beautiful soul.