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The Courage to Create Crap!

Every artist, whether they’ll admit it or not, sometimes creates crap.  Painters, sculptors, jewelers, artists in every medium have projects or pieces that either don’t meet the artist’s standard…or are just failures in one way or another. 

If you’re reading this, and say to yourself, that never happens to me, you’re either a REALLY exceptional artist or just a darn good liar!

But failure is a part of the artistic process, whether we like it or not.  And many times, what we don’t like in our work, someone else thinks is amazing. 

What most of us really need is the courage to create that “crap” and tell ourselves it’s okay…and maybe even have a good time with creating it.

Have you ever gone to a workshop or class of an artist you truly admired, and made the worst piece of art you’ve ever done?  Somehow the experience leaves you feeling that maybe you’re not talented enough, or the teacher wasn’t clear enough with instructions, or you brought the wrong colors/supplies/tools/surface, or whatever?  You tried so very hard, and you created a true piece of dog poo that you’re ready to toss in the trash.  What a mistake, what a waste of money, what a waste of time…and why did I think I could do this anyway!

Let me tell you, that instructor, whether in person or on video, had more than a few pieces that they painted or sculpted or designed, before they finally got the “Perfect One” that you’re seeing in class or online.  I know it, I teach, I take workshops and I’ve done it too! Many times, I’ve painted the same piece over and over and over again, before I ever decide to plan a workshop or class around it.

The sad thing is, we all watch the videos, take the classes, and work on our projects expecting that perfect performance the first thing out of the gate.  It’s really hard to allow ourselves the freedom and permission to just learn the techniques and style…and then adapt them to our own style and work.

One of my best stories for my classes is a workshop I took from a very well know artist in Arizona.  I really admired this guy’s work, and wanted to create a spectacular piece of art during his class.  My table mate was very talented, and followed the instructor’s guidance to a “T”. She did several pieces during the course of the workshop, and they were stunning.  Me…I did several pieces too, all of which were terrible…and truly crap! LOL!  I was totally disgusted with myself, having learned some tips and techniques from him, but totally unable to replicate his exceptional work and style.  My “sweet” tablemate alternated between sending smirks, pitying side glances and downright condescending looks my way, while preening about her skill in copying the instructor’s work.

I stopped “working” on my pieces, and just started dripping, splashing and basically destroying the pieces I had been working on.  I was done! I had “failed” in my quest to learn how to do the work as our artist/instructor demonstrated and my pieces were just CRAP.

As the class wrapped up, the instructor decided he wanted to have a “Show and Tell” critique session, and began prowling around the room, looking at everyone’s work.  As you might imagine, I was horrified.  This famous, talented artist was going to see the garbage I did during his workshop, and not only humiliate me in front of the class, but was undoubtedly going to wonder why I took his class.  I hurriedly threw everything I made under the table.

Of course, he stopped by our table, and asked to see our work.  My sweet (and very smug) table mate showed off her pieces first.  Grudgingly, I’ll admit, they were very good. So much like the instructor’s work that you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.  

Sure enough, he asked where mine were, and as I replied that I had none to show…my tablemate helpfully volunteered that I had put them under the table. She ever so helpfully pulled them from below us and put them up on my work area.  

He looked at them for a moment, and then held them up.  As I cowered and hid in my seat, he asked the class what they thought…and yeah, there was just silence.  My work looked nothing like his but had only a few elements of what he was teaching.  He then said something I’ll never forget whether I’m teaching or learning from another artist.  He said that he really liked my pieces, that I understood the elements of what he was teaching but had adapted it to my own style.  WHAT??! I had been actively trying to destroy these pieces with drips and splashes so I could convince myself to toss them in the trash when I left.  He said that there was one piece that he even thought I should frame. My table mate was staring with her mouth open, and I imagine I was too!

I thought my work was horribly ugly, but he felt I had watched him, taken elements of his techniques, and created a perfectly great piece that needed framing.  I still have that piece, still remember him, and constantly remind myself that one artist’s crap is another person’s work of art.

There is an insightful, down to earth, easy read book that I recommend that every artist check out.  It will definitely make you laugh, along with a great wake up call on the pressure we, as artists, put on ourselves to create a masterpiece every stinking time we pick up a brush or tool to work on our art. 

 Check it out on Amazon: “Make it Mighty Ugly: Exercises and Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty” by Kim Werker.  It will definitely make you think about days when you feel all that you are creating is CRAP!  Lol!

One last story about art before I go!

I had a good friend, who has now moved across the country, and gave up art a long time ago…so she won’t even know I’m talking about her.  

She picked up art on a whim after a bad divorce.  She was looking for a hobby, and perhaps friends in the large community of artists that exists in Arizona.

In any event, her art was, for a better word, unusual. 

She had no art background, or experience and had just decided one day that it sounded like something she should do.  I really liked her, but quite frankly, her art was hard to look at no matter how you viewed it.  

She bought great materials but, her colors clashed and were confusing, her subject matter was rather offensive, but she really didn’t care.  She thought her stuff was great, entered it into shows (she was never accepted by any of them), and continued to paint for 5 years or so.  She loved her art, even though no one else did.  She was a good friend, and I never criticized her pieces, but gave her helpful feedback if she asked about framing and such.  I never commented on her subject matter, but tried to steer her towards less controversial images in her pieces.  

She never took any advice from anyone, and continued to paint her own way.

A few years after I lost touch with her, she contacted me and told me she had a solo show in a gallery near Union Station in San Francisco.  She sold most of her pieces during her exhibition, and then with validation under her belt she quit painting.

I can say without any hesitation, I was surprised!  Most people who saw her work thought it was not saleable, not show worthy, and not very good.

So whenever I’m tempted to say I’ve created “Crap”, I just remember that everyone sees a different picture…and no art is truly ugly!

Kat Kurgan

Arizona Art Supply

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