Neil Gaiman has a popular commencement speech about making good art. It’s a great listen if you have the time. Here’s an excerpt:
When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.
Well I’m going to take it a step back and say: just make art. Who cares if it’s good? For quite a while I’ve wanted to get into painting, but I never even bothered trying because to be perfectly honest I have no artistic talent. But I’ve reached a point in my life where now I see how ridiculous it is not to do something just because there is the chance for failure. Who cares?
I’ve always felt like I should paint at least one thing in my life. And I’m not talking about high school art class or a pinewood derby car – I mean like on a real canvas with real brushes and possibly while wearing a tilted beret if I could find one. How sad would it be to reach the end of my life only to regret that I never even tried painting because I knew I would be no good at it?
Well today I painted my first painting.
I fully admit, I felt more than a little stupid buying paints, brushes, canvases, even an easel when I knew what I would produce would ultimately amount to a waste of the supplies that someone else could have put to better use. I even half expected the cashier at Michael’s Arts and Crafts would find me out for a fraud and refuse to sell me the supplies. But who cares?
Today I sat myself down and created a piece of art that did not exist when I woke up this morning. Not only that, but I learned a great deal in the process too. In the week leading up to my painting adventure I learned what gessoing is, and that some people stretch their own canvases. I learned the difference between oil paints and acrylics. I learned you can sneak a bush into your painting and it will be a secret between only you and Bob Ross. Today I learned about mixing colors, and how hard it is to get the one you’re looking for. I even learned that maybe I should wait just a little bit longer for the paint to dry before painting a new layer.
So don’t worry about whether your art is good or bad. You become a better person just for doing it. Just make art.
Don’t believe me? Well here’s a quote from Kurt Vonnegut on the matter – a guy who knows a thing or two:
Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
And now, if you’ve made it this far, you can see the process of my painting. I fully intend to continue painting and hopefully get better, and I figure these photos will be a good way to see how far I’ve come. Trust me, I’m under no delusion that this is any good, so I assure you I am not showing off here.
So what’s that thing that you’ve wanted to do but never did? Maybe you should give it a shot. Not because you’ll be good at it, but because why not?