Keep Making “Bad” Art

This is a copy and paste of (this post on Tumblr) in its entirety:

I think everyone should make dumb ugly zines and bad music and write shitty books with weird premises and publish them for pay what you will online. I think people should write plays that are only ever intended to be performed with their friends in their living rooms. I think people who like ttrpgs should explore bizarre games and new systems that have no affiliation whatsoever with any major publishing house. If youre lucky enough to have a cool local community radio station nearby you should listen to that and what people close to you have to say and what they’re creating that has no focus on being nationally appealing. I just think creation should be more joyful and local both in a geographic sense and a personal and social sense and unconcerned with whether or not it will be commercially viable or slick or even good beyond your own pride in it. And I think it’s good to seek out art that exists for its own sake or to appeal to the community it was created within.

Also relevant is (this tweet) that reads: “The key to making ‘better’ art is to keep making ‘bad’ art shamelessly and consistently.”

I linked to this tweet in (my recent post) about all the bad art that goes into the creation of halfway decent art, but I’ve been thinking about the larger implications. This is a bit of a story, so bear with me.

The other day, a scholar I admire gave me an opportunity to write a short review of an academic essay collection I’ve been looking forward to ever since I learned about the project two years ago. I’m thrilled to hear that the book has finally been published, and I replied as quickly as I could to say that I would love to write a review.

The person responded a few days later to let me know that he’d had a copy of the book be sent to me, and he apologized for taking so long to reply. It turns out that he was busy because he was doing something really cool. I went to his account on Twitter to see if he was talking about it, as I wanted to learn more and perhaps retweet a bit of what he and other people were saying. When I checked his account, however, I found that he’d unfollowed me at some point.

I seriously doubt that he unfollowed me because he dislikes me or because I somehow offended him. What I suspect is that he respects my work on artistic subcultures but doesn’t particularly want to see the work of emerging artists on his Twitter feed, and that he simply doesn’t know enough about social media to understand that he can mute people. Which is fair. No harm, no foul.

Unfortunately, I am a delicate flower with delicate feelings, and I ended up spiraling into a vortex of self-doubt that has nothing at all to do with this person. Or rather, it has nothing to do with him specifically and everything to do with the broader culture of what it means to be a serious adult who cares about art. Namely, there’s a certain unspoken consensus regarding what gets to be “art,” and a lot of major cultural currents fall so far outside this consensus that they don’t even register with people who aren’t creators and thus aren’t directly involved in creative communities.

I had a similar moment of vertigo during a recent conversation with a friend who invited me to attend a First Friday gallery event. While we were drinking and waiting for some other friends to show up, we got into a conversation about the effects of social media on artistic production. What my friend essentially argued is that you can’t count something as “art” unless it’s produced by hand and worthy of being sold at a gallery. It’s a stretch to say that digital art is indeed “art,” and it goes without saying that fan art is worthless.

Because I’m so immersed in creative communities of people who produce most of their work digitally and draw fan art because they enjoy it, it was wild to me that someone my own age would have what I consider to be such a conservative perspective. I want to be clear that I’m not friends with assholes; and I think that, if we were having a serious conversation that wasn’t fueled by alcohol procured at a pay-what-you-want shot bar, my friend would have gladly discussed the matter of “art” with more nuance and specific examples drawn from his own personal history as someone who has been involved in the curation of pop-up art galleries at fan conventions. Let’s be real, this dude has probably seen some crazy shit.

But at the same time, I think most of us have to make an active effort to ignore this sort of perspective on art if we’re serious about creating meaningful work. I think most people would agree that “good” art is specific, and probably the vast majority of “specific” art isn’t going to speak to people outside of a specific community. So while the maxim of “create for yourself” has serious limitations, I also think that it’s important to do what you enjoy while not worrying about creating “bad” art.

And as the Tumblr post suggests, it’s fun to seek out super-indie work that wasn’t created to appeal to a large audience. I’m not saying that everyone needs to watch depressing arthouse movies about political refugees and dysfunctional marriages in order to build character. Rather, if you like horror and you like video games, maybe it might be fun to go play some free ten-minute horror video games on Itchio. Maybe you might even be inspired to download some free software and make one of these games yourself. This specific example probably only applies to me, but the point still stands. Once you make the decision not to care about what’s “good art,” it’s much easier to have fun and be creative.