The Benefits Of Making Terrible Art In Less Than Optimal Circumstances

The night before I wrote the first draft of this article, I was in that terrible combination of being in an awful mood and feeling extremely tired. Plus, I still had to prepare one of the daily paintings I’ll be posting here next month.

Although I was able to salvage the painting a bit after scanning it and editing it extensively on the computer the following morning, it ended up being predictably terrible. Not only are the shading and reflections slightly wrong, but (due to covering up a few mistakes) it’s also about a million miles away from the vivid, heavily saturated art that I normally make. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th March.

So, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to do with why making terrible art under less than optimal circumstances can actually be a good thing sometimes. Yes, you heard me correctly. It can actually benefit you. I’ve mentioned all of this stuff before, but it’s always worth repeating.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that comparing it to bad art (or even good art) you made a few years ago can show you how much you have improved as an artist. This can be an invaluable motivational tool if you’re in the kind of mood or situation that results in bad art.

For example, in the painting I just showed you earlier, I probably wouldn’t have thought to add falling leaves to it (to give it a sense of momentum and depth) or to digitally desaturate it (to cover up a few imperfections) if I’d made it a couple of years ago.

The second reason is that it’s a test of your artistic skill and motivation. If you manage to churn out a painting, however terrible, in less than optimum circumstances then this shows that you still have some kind of artistic motivation. It shows that you’re still determined to be an artist.

Not only that, if you’ve got limited time or energy available to make a painting then it can also be a test of your skill in the sense that you have to find a sneaky way to make the least-terrible terrible painting with the resources you have. Likewise, if you’re feeling extremely uninspired, then working out how to make a painting (however terrible) despite this can be a great test of your artistic skill.

The third is that it can actually increase your artistic confidence. If you’re in a situation where making art feels more difficult than usual, then even producing a bad piece of art under those circumstances means that you’re more dedicated to making art than some artists might be. After all, if you still have the confidence to know that you can still make art under adverse circumstances, then this is always a good thing.

Likewise, having the confidence to actually show off your failed artwork can help novice artists too. There seems to be this misconception that even vaguely good artists are people who only ever produce great works of art. This isn’t true! All artists make crappy art every once in a while.

Yes, even the artists who are so good that they make you think “I’ll never be able to make something as great as that!” will make terrible art occasionally. The main difference is that many artists tend to hide their failed pieces, to give the impression that they only produce great art all of the time. They don’t.

Finally, it gets you used to failing sometimes. Being able to handle failure is one of the most important parts of being a creative person, since it’s the only way that any artist, writer etc.. improves. If you want to get better at making art, you have to fail sometimes. So, making terrible art occasionally can be a good way to get used to it.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂