On Making Bad Art

First of all, if you're thinking you'll need to comment about how my art or our music isn't bad, go ahead.  Make it really nice and encouraging. Compare our art or music to something super outstanding - aim high - I'd say Lumineers or above is a decent line to shoot for, maybe Joni Mitchell.  Emmylou.

I've been working very hard on illustration these days.  I've signed up for a class I could not afford and have been up very early most mornings and at my desk in a corner in the playroom, paint water and cups of coffee alike with paintbrushes inside.  And I have worked very hard to make things detailed, beautiful, unique, and all of it has been just ok.  Pretty alright.  My portfolio looks lackluster.  Things I was once proud of look weak to me now.

Music too.  Our songs are fine.  Pretty alright.  I don't hate ALL of them anymore, so either I'm becoming desensitized to our excrementitious music, or we have improved.  

Here is something I shouldn't say.  When I listen to the music of beginners, I have before thought, "they ought to do something else."  When I see the art of new artists, I have thought, "this is not for them."  Why is this?  I don't associate art or music with practice, even though I MYSELF AM A BEGINNER.  Judge not, right? It's shameful - I am ashamed of this.  I would never tell my sweet friend, "Hey, not so good.  Maybe you have some other talent?  Can you do sports, maybe?"  No.    

I associate art and music with some sort of natural brilliance - and I am discouraged when I feel I haven't got it.  But I know better - I know that to be a good artist/writer/whatever, you have to be willing to be a bad one first. That takes lots of bravery - to do something doggedly, publicly while you are still bad at it. It's the Chesterton quote you're sick of seeing on my instagram - "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."  It's the Ira Glass thing - your taste makes you an artist, and there will be years where your work disappoints you because IT JUST ISN'T THAT GOOD, and this is where people quit, but don't quit.  Push through it.  I know it, but I also doubt it, and wonder if I am going to push and push to be pretty good at a lot of things, and never very good at any of them, despite a great effort. 

Why the constant comparison?  I watch a video of someone playing live, and I ask myself, "are they better than us?" and "am I as funny as she is?" and also, "am I about her size? or fatter?" and I do this all day and I feel discouraged and crazy, because I am certainly a little or a lot of both.  I know how to flip it - and I do flip it.  I say aloud, "She's so funny and her dress is quirky and she looks super cool" and "I love her gravelly, awesome tone" and "how inspiring", I say.  I do mean it, but why does someone else's skill place me?  Why do I need to find my place in a line, as though there is some awful gym wall where we will all be lined up like in PE class, placed top to bottom?  It's gross.  It's a gross vanity.  I'm sorry for it.  I know I'll be way, way down the table from Christ in Heaven, waving and hoping He can see me, wondering who is sitting next to Him and if she's entertaining and holy and if she can sing.  

This is worse with my peers, musical or artistic.  I don't sit around and listen to Emmylou and feel shitty.  That's some other league and it doesn't merit comparison.  So this is worse to me - these are my fellow travelers, these are my seat mates on the bus and my very friends.  We do what we do not want to do, and what we want to be, we are not.  

I think of Jesus asking Peter "who do you say I am?"  Before I was educated on this, I read as though he were really asking.  What a thing to ask a friend.  "Who do you think I am?  What am I like to you?"  This is like how I take Facebook quizzes, Meyers-Briggs and enneagram tests, how I align with Anne of Green Gables, how my INFP saint is Francis.  I am looking for me.  I am doing this with music and art - "who do you say I am?" and "is this any good?" and "is this worth my time, the investment I am placing in these things when I have so much already to care for and manage?" No one really can or will answer, but some truth is gained in the asking.  If you asked me this about yourself, I would love you and tell you emphatically that YES, yes, it's worth it and that you have so much to share and to say.

My assignment for my expensive children's book illustration course this week is to design the cover. Every week, there's a review of the best pieces and we are on our final week.  I've not been in any review, and I see why, and I know I won't be in the review this week either.  I haven't even opened up my art board to work on this week's assignment.  The quality of the work of my classmates is off the charts - never mind that some of them have worked for Pixar.  Never mind that some have illustrated loads of books already.  Never mind all that.  I know I am meant to do the work for the sake of the work and for what I will learn from just doing the work.  

Still, though, still, there is me.

We had a practice last night with new bandmates.  It was a quiet rehearsal, four very solid introverts, and I sang with mediocrity and weird nervous energy.  I know that I'm not mediocre, but also that I am.  Our sweet friend Blind Jimmy visited not long ago, and as we sat around making a work tape of songs we plan to record next month, Jimmy says, "It's not the best thing I've ever heard, but it isn't the worst.  It's kind of mediocre, and I don't mean that in a bad way," he said. "I'm mediocre myself," he said.  And there wasn't a solution for it.  Time, maybe, and practice, and the growth in skill that will come from all of that. This is a big part of why I love Jimmy nearly more than anyone.  I know that this is true.

Today I will clean my house and fold my laundry and skill doesn't play into these things at all.   Probably by this afternoon, I'll make more mediocre art and then tomorrow, more, and soon I'll look back at the things I've made this week and wonder how I ever thought it was any good.  What a weird sort of progression!  So earthly and unsatisfying!  One of my hopes for Heaven is that the imbalance between taste and skill will slip away, that we will look back and see ourselves mean and vain and small and skill-less, and feel affectionately towards how we once were.