I wasn’t always a painter. Sure, I’d dabbled before, but it was never something that had any sort of hold over me. In fact, I found it boring. Then one day, out of the blue, I had this terrible, burning, incredible need to paint. To really paint.
So, I did the only natural thing to do. I found this awesome painter I was acquainted with, who had a long and successful career as an artist, walked straight up to him and said,
“I want to paint.”
He didn’t blink. In fact, he told me exactly what to do.
The most important thing, he said, was not to spend too much money on materials. Specifically, he told me to start out with house paint, preferably the “oops” paint (the cans that had been messed up at the hardware store), because it was cheaper. At first I thought this was in case I decided I didn’t like painting. A good point, to be sure, but in actuality he didn’t want me to feel guilty using up anything I’d bought. Which I would have.
Then he told me what continues to be the best advice I have ever received about art, ever:
“Don’t make it good.”
I thought this was profound. I still do. And now that I’ve graduated to using fancy schmancy expensive materials, that piece of advice has stuck with me. It has fundamentally changed how I work.
I always laugh when I hear artists admonishing fellow artists about “proper” materials and methods. It’s so stifling. There’s a time and place for it, and that time is not when one is starting out. In fact, if it ever chokes one’s creativity, it’s wrong. The artist who mentored me, a “plein-air abstractionist” he was called, painted outside, in the wind, with the bugs. There were tree parts and dirt stuck in the paint. It never once inhibited his career. People bought up his paintings like crazy and he was well respected in the community. Personally, I think it made his work even more special.
I once knew a girl who wanted to be an artist. She bought an expensive art desk. She bought expensive art supplies. She rarely used them, and perpetually looked like a startled bunny whenever faced with making art. She would doodle amazing little drawings absentmindedly while at her desk at work, but the idea of making “real” art petrified her.
Sometimes I think we like to overcomplicate things in order to justify procrastination. As children, art was easy. No one expected us to meet any sort of arbitrary, high-minded standard of excellence. We just made things because we felt like it. We wanted to see what the colors looked like, how the materials felt on our fingers. It was purely experiential.
During some of my worst and longest blocked periods, in which my output shuts down, I have no ideas, and I’m temporarily convinced that I’ll never make art again, I always realize that I’ve been trying to make good art. I want it to be good. I want people to think that it’s good. I stop thinking about the paint, and the color. I stop feeling the art. There’s been many occasions in which I’ve had to ruin my work in order to continue. I’ll splash black paint over the whole piece, or paint it all white, just to erase the previous blockage out of my mind. I’ll even cover up the parts that I like. It’s an exercise of release. It frees me up. I’m no longer trying to make art that’s “good.” I’m just making art.
Inspiration has no judge. It’s about expression, whatever that may be for you, whatever that looks like. If you’re concerned about “making it good”, you’ll lose your unbridled creativity, the very thing that made you want to create in the first place. You’ll judge yourself. You won’t be raw. Your true self is what makes it art. There is no good or bad in that. The façade you maintain for others cannot be inspired. Creativity comes from within you. It is your soul. You want it to be you.
Being good at something either comes naturally, or takes years of practice (or both.) It isn’t something you can put on, like a hat or a British accent. It really has no relationship to why we make art. Perhaps we can aspire to be good, but we can’t fake it, so it doesn’t matter. The only thing that truly matters is that we do the work that represents our collective soul, our personal story. We have to prepare our art to be seen by the world, but create as though no one is watching.
That’s what makes it great.
—Written by Shayla Maddox for Art & Musings