Have you made any art today? Have you traced your hand with your kid? Or have you drawn your coffee cup until it goes cold? Have you stared at your own face and painted every shade you see? Or have you spilled your emotions into making imaginative characters come alive?
I hope you have. And if it’s a good day, maybe you managed to silence your inner critic while making any of it. In my last post, I mentioned how I found power in the idea of making art without judgment. Don’t worry, this post isn’t about me now embracing making bad art on purpose—with the emphasis on “bad.”
No, this is about taking the time, once in a while, to step back and acknowledge how far you’ve come. That beautiful moment when you can look back on old work and confidently say, “You’ve served a purpose and I can throw you out now.” Or, for the hoarders in the crowd, “You’ve served a purpose and I can now add you to a pile in a closet in the basement.”
I recently reacquired art that my parents kept from every age of my childhood. From their house to mine, I hauled multiple portfolios and boxes and bins full of small and large pieces. A notebook of drawings from first grade to high school art camp experiments to my high school senior portfolio all the way until my UArts college thesis pieces. In summary: a lot of bad art.
I say “bad” endearingly. Like looking back on ‘80s haircuts—you know you felt really awesome Aqua-Netting every strand of sky-high hair, but when you look back on faded photos you cringe a little bit.
Growth means being able to look back and cringe at your art.
I grew up working in a lot of traditional mediums—you name it I’ve probably tried it. But the thing with working traditionally, as a lot of people know, is that Things. Take. Up. Space. I kept every bit of newsprint with charcoal scribbles from figure drawing classes all the way to “finished” paintings on hand-stretched canvases and piles of editions of screen prints. Now, I work mostly digitally and I don’t feel a preciousness with my files that I did with my coming-of-age art.
Everything tells a story, though. I feel very removed now from the artist I used to be, but over an evolution of a lifetime I’ve come to see how certain pieces have informed my voice, even from first grade (when I wasn’t thinking of drawing as “art”).
Yesterday, I listened to all of my visual voices across the ages once again, photographed each piece individually, and then threw out all of my high school and college art. Maybe one day I’ll have to give a talk and we can all laugh at how bad some of it was. Or maybe one day I’ll compile everything into a book for posterity. Or maybe one day my computer will crash and I’ll simply lose it all…and none of it would have matter to anyone but me.
Why I’m writing this really is to simply say: I encourage you to not necessarily wait a lifetime to look back on your art, but take a minute to even scroll back one year in your Instagram feed. I’m sure you’ll come to cherish just how far you’ve come.
Acknowledge your bad art—and keep growing.