Embracing the Ugly: Tales of Monsters and Being a Boss
One of the things I love about the Art World, is that there is room for all sorts. So many people like so many different things. We all have different preferences in medium, style, & subject, and we're lucky enough to live in a world where, inevitably, we can find communities that appreciate the things we make.
Generally, we concede that much of what makes good art "good" is largely a matter of taste. I'm not into realistic landscapes and pastoral imagery. But you know what? Plenty of other people are, so it doesn't matter. You may not be into avant garde jazz, but I am, and that's cool. Not every gallery space, or publisher, or concert hall is suited to every kind of work, but there is an audience for your work out there.
So, in this climate of endless subjectivity, why are so many of us still afraid... of ugly?
We can be controversial, and shocking, and critical, and even scathing, but heaven forbid we make something that is ugly!
What I mean, is that many of us have an aversion to making things that don't come out the way we want them to. We tear out pages from our sketchbook. We hide our work in drawers, or under beds, or in our parents' attics. More often, we refuse to let our flops even exist, lest they sully our reputations. Things get erased, painted over, deleted from our hard drives and thrown in the wastebasket.
Because we fear the ugly. We don't want to look at the artistic monsters we've created, that somehow eluded our vision, that slipped outside of our control.
So, what would it mean to overcome our fear of the ugly?
What if we were to let these monsters exist?
For one thing, it would demystify the creative process. Like all the biographies we read, and Instagram feeds we follow, we only see the highlights, the nice parts, the polished pieces suitable for public consumption. If we saw the bad ideas, and failed attempts, and embarrassing screw-ups, the artist suddenly becomes an imperfect, always-growing, person-just-like-you! This is maybe a bit disappointing, even a little off-putting, but it definitely makes the artist more relatable.
I'm of the belief that every artist, no matter how talented, must make a lot of bad art. It is a necessary step toward making good art. And until we get through all the failed attempts and stupid ideas, we'll never get to the really good stuff. Once we begin to see ugliness as a sign that we are making progress, it stops being a hindrance.
Embracing our creative failures also has a surprise benefit: it can lead us down creative paths to cool and weird stuff we wouldn't have otherwise found. Some artists are really good at allowing "happy accidents," going with the flow, and accepting indeterminacy as a part of the process. I'm not one of those artists. I have to work really hard to not have absolutely everything under my control at all times. Maybe you're not as tightly wound as I am, but lots of us struggle with knowing how much control to exert over the process.
When we let the "ugliness" that creeps into our work hang around for a bit, it can show us weird, and interesting, and potentially awesome stuff that we might not have gotten to otherwise. It keeps us open to opportunities we may not have noticed if we'd covered them up or erased them.
Most of all, accepting the ugliness we create can free us from the opinions of others. It gets us on our way to developing the inner conviction necessary to have confidence in our work, in our process, in our artistic voice. Accepting the ugly frees us to be our own boss. Once we've embraced the unflattering, the unapproved, the unacceptable, we exempt ourselves from the rules that govern beauty.
When we accept ugly, we can do whatever we want- and for people who make stuff, this is our Golden Ticket. When we finally accept ugliness as something to not be ashamed of, we remove all those subconscious fears that keep us from making stuff, and the possibilities become endless...
How do you get your ugly on? Do you keep your flops and screw-ups? Has your bad idea ever turned into a masterpiece when you let it stick around?