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March 21, 2022

On Making Bad Art (and a Lot of It)

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This week, a friend offhandedly reminded me of something I had said to her a long time ago. Apparently, when asked about my freakish journaling routine, I said, “Oh, well, it’s all worth it to me because journaling helps me ease my anxiety about the passing of time.” I guess it stuck with her more than me, clearly. I didn’t even remember, nor could I fathom, saying something that sounded so valiant and belletristic. So I talked myself into it. 

You see, since I was 12 years old, I’ve been a freak about journaling. During the last week of every year, when I really should be buying Christmas gifts for my loved ones, I go out and buy myself a black Moleskine Notebook (3.5 inches x 5.5 inches, 192 pages, unlined. It has to be unlined). Over the years, I’ve accrued a shelf of selfish encyclopedias, beholden to a strange predicted nostalgia. 

Sometimes I think it’s a lack of faith in the human ability to remember that makes me record my own life like it’s worth money. Other times I find it to be a beautiful form of self-soothing. Either way, I am acutely aware of the fact that as a senior, it’s my time to be a curmudgeonly, washed-up old broad. But I think making bad art is helping. 

Kurt Vonnegut ‘44, who is heinously over-quoted at this school, wrote in A Man Without a Country, “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake… Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem.You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

This spring, lousy art has become my specialty. My roommates and I painted a lopsided, lumpy repurposed canvas, with abstract motifs that resemble tacos and pizza, probably because we were hungry and broke. We joked it would be in the next Maven show, but no kid at this school would dare give it monetary value, much less hang it in their room. 

I’ve got reels and reels of film chock-full of blurry photos of beloved faces shaded under bucket hats, tacky cocktail parties, pumpkin-themed pre-games and the languishing days of summer that I desperately hoped the subject of my lens would hold on to as much as I did. 

My dad is anxious about getting old too, though he doesn’t make bad art at all. His father’s memory was like a sloshing bucket, losing its weight without reason, so my dad thinks he can ward off Alzheimer’s by meticulously eating organic vegetables and walking at a hair-trigger pace every morning. He’s scared of losing his memory, but on him, it looks selfless — like he’s doing it for me. 

But maybe bad art is more fun than eating vegetables — partially because you can hold it, and especially because it’s just for you. I write down my friend’s dream featuring me playing basketball. I write down what my sister wore to her sorority date night. I write down what the soup was at Zeus and where I ate it. My journal is an explosion of the mundane, sprinkled with heartbreak and days when the sun shined bright enough to lull away the sonorous pitch of outgrowing things and places again and again. 

One of the most wonderfully misunderstood artists of all time, Georgia O’Keeffe, said of art-making: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing.  Making your unknown known is the important thing.” 

More lousy art it is. 

Greta Gooding is a senior in the College of Art and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].