We all have biases and judgments about what we consider to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art. When making art it’s important to question why you choose to label something as good or bad, especially because you may not even realise the real reason why. Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy explain “Ideas about what is ‘good’ art are not formed by themselves. They are the result of complex systems of patronage, ideology, money and education, supported by university courses and museums, all of which guide our sense of what makes a work of art especially worthy of attention.”
Simply put, your beliefs around what art is ‘good’ are comprised by other people, institutes and industries beliefs. How could you not be influenced when viewing ‘successful’ art in a national gallery space, building a visual set of rules about what constitutes ‘good art?’ Just because someone else believe X artwork is brilliant, doesn’t mean their opinion is the hard and fast rule of good/bad. This is worth questioning because having the courage to make your own art may bring up black and white rules and discourage you from making more art if you don’t seem to measuring up to an invisible standard that’s been subconsciously bought into.
Make your own rules about the art you make and measure ‘good’ by the amount of enjoyment you feel when making the art. That’s a far more accurate (and kinder) measure of attention.
What is the value in our art right now, exactly where we are today? Sometimes it’s hard to see value when improving or aiming for a specific goal is the focus. It can be deflating to look at today’s art, whilst holding an image in your mind of a ‘better’ version you compare against. Of course you’re not as good as your future self, it’s had more practice. Wanting to jump ahead to the future takes you out of the present — where the benefits of learning, growth and fun lie — and into a constant state of dissatisfaction.
Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy suggest “One of our major flaws, and causes of our unhappiness, is that we find it hard to take note of what is always around. We suffer because we lose sight of the value of what is before us and yearn, often unfairly, for the imagined attractions of elsewhere.” What is the value of what is before you right now?
It’s no wonder if you feel like quitting because you’re not there yet. But there will always be an elusive place. When you do reach it, the goalposts will move and there will be a new there to reach. If you knew you’re chasing an endless goal, it would be wise (and positive for your mental wellbeing) to have your main focus on the art made today. Take note of how your confidence is improving, how you feel uplifted after making marks, how far you’ve come so far or the fact you’ve made two pieces of art which is two more than last week.
Look at for the value that is right before you (even if you have to look hard to see it, it will be there) and be encouraged with where you are today.
The biggest obstacle to start making art? Yourself. We want to be good at everything instantly, even if we’ve had minimal practice. The fear that you might fail will keep you paralysed before you’ve even started. By comparing yourself to a prolific artist who has years of experience, work and failures under their belt, it’s no wonder you feel disappointed at the fledgling art marks you make. You want to make something worthy of the time spent on it (to be a constant human productivity machine) as well as seeking out approval from others. But Brené Brown in Daring Greatly suggests that if you attach your self-worth to your art then you’re handing over your self-worth to what other people think: “You’re officially a prisoner of ‘pleasing, performing, and perfecting’.”
Wanting everything to be perfect so you can avoid making ‘bad’ art will keep you stuck because the bar of expectation is immediately too high. Getting confident and making original art can take a lifetime and in the meantime decide to have fun. Get messy, make bad art on purpose, get into the flow of making something simply for the joy of making something. You are in control of how high your bar of expectation is, so you can lower it to “I will simply enjoy making art.” To experience satisfaction or even joy in creating something from nothing is a worthy goal.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says “Overcoming self doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.” Let go of needing to be good art because it doesn’t matter if what you make is good, bad, ugly, masterful or simple. It’s not not about creating a perfected final physical thing, it’s about the process of self-discovery, joy and creativity by tapping into a part of you that normally lies hidden.
“Beneath our flaws, there are always two ingredients: fear and a desire for love.” – Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety