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Making Bad Art: A Necessity for All Artists

Cindy Qiao

When I first began devoting myself to art around the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I thought that in order to truly be an artist, I needed to really slave over my work, spending hours and hours on end working.To me, art had been about constantly searching for the perfect idea, finding the perfect medium so that I could achieve the perfect result.

Often times, I was caught up in looking at these amazing artists that I followed online and be absolutely captivated and in awe, and I would wonder: how is it possible? How did they make such beautiful work all the time? I wanted that, and I expected it too. I put in so much time, but still, with every piece I made, I was unsatisfied. I couldn’t get the results I wanted.

Acrylic Painting, Cindy Qiao

In a project where I painted a series of flower bouquets, I had an image in my mind of exactly how these paintings would turn out. Every time I created one of these paintings, I wanted it to be perfect. To me, perfect meant matching those amazing artists I followed online. Not only did I want the final result to look perfect, but I also wanted the process of making the piece to match exactly my plan.

As a result, whenever I made another painting that didn’t follow the plan I had in my head, I threw it aside, and gave up. The number of unfinished paintings began piling up in my room. To me, it was a complete failure. Then I would try and start again… I couldn’t make changes to my artworks because I told myself that any changes I made would ruin the artwork. What I failed to realize was this way of thinking was only limiting my creativity. I wasn’t going to get any closer to improving my artwork if I kept making my art this way.

Because I couldn’t create art that looked a certain way, I became frustrated with myself. I often thought that maybe art just wasn’t for me. I thought that I couldn’t be called an artist if I couldn’t create work that looked good. I placed blame on how terrible a medium was, how I didn’t have enough time, etc., etc.

Looking back on it, what I didn’t want to face was that what was really holding me back from improving was my way of thinking. My frustration led me into a creative rut where I stopped creating art for about a month. Ironically, the whole time I really wanted to create something again, anything.

So I sat down and began scribbling on pieces of scrap paper with the intention of throwing them away. I sketched random things I saw: people, dogs, cats, plants. I thought all of these sketches were terrible, but I kept making them just for the sake of making something.

Figure Drawings, Cindy Qiao
Mixed Media Painting, Cindy Qiao

I began going to live figure drawing classes where the models would change their pose every 2 minutes, and I couldn’t think about making each drawing perfect. As the number of sketches grew, my hand and my brain became looser. I forgot about drawing the perfect figure, what my drawing would look like in the end, all of that, and I simplified the process in my mind. All I was doing was looking and drawing, without registering that I was drawing a person.

I realized that I had previously been too precious about every single stroke that I made in a drawing. My art wasn’t something I could tiptoe around carefully. The way I handled my art was as if it was about to fall apart. Doing quick gesture drawings of the figure, I accepted in advance that I was going to make bad art. So I started making a lot of bad art.

I returned to my series of flower bouquets that I had previously thrown aside. In order to loosen my brain, I began collaging random materials onto the canvas, breaking away from just using the brush. Instead of getting frustrated when these materials ripped in half or dripped paint onto the canvas, I let it happen.

Even though in this process I made some terrible paintings that didn’t turn out amazing, it didn’t matter to me because I began creating something I hadn’t ever created before. This new freedom I had with these paintings broke down the wall of frustration I had built up when I was determined to make every single thing perfect. The creative process became more free for me.

Finally, I could easily adapt to changes when an artwork didn’t work out. If a drawing ripped, I didn’t toss it into the trash. Instead, I let the paper rip, painted over it, and then cut into it. I turned my mistakes into advantages I could use to bring a new aspect of creativity to my piece. I let this new found tug-of-war between me and the medium guide my art pieces into an exciting unexplored territory.

Mixed Media Painting, Cindy Qiao

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