Bad Art

A piece by Hannah May


An example of Sofia Sears’s very, very bad art


Contrary to popular belief, I like to think that most people are dreamers, or at least more dreamer than do-er. People who strive for greatness are few and far between. Though a lot of people start out with a dream career or life plan, somewhere in between kindergarten and nine to five jobs, we lose our drive to achieve that dream. I don’t think we stop dreaming, so much as we fear making a fool of ourselves by trying to achieve it. In other words, we’re afraid of failing.

But there is a pride in owning your failures, which is where I come in. I’ve always been obsessed with the individuals that strived for greatness, and failed. But they didn’t just fail, they created a failure so calamitous, so hilariously catastrophic, so epically messy, it could only be considered a win. People such as CW Neill, who managed the infamous blog “Unfinished Screenplays” in which he posted his botched attempts at writing feature films, as well as printing them in his book This Movie Will Require Dinosaurs. Or the Museum of Bad Art, where curator Michael Frank showcases the worst art available at flea markets (and through donations).

Armed with these as inspiration, I decided to start my own movement to embrace fantastic failures. I wanted to celebrate all bad art forms (writing, paintings, poetry, etc). After much consideration, I decided that it would be best to do this in a publication, but not a glossy magazine or a sleek book. The publication needed to match the content: messy, rugged, poor-quality, yet endearing and insightful. The choice became obvious: a zine. For those of you that don’t know, zines are small magazines that use minimal technology, originally used to circulate radical ideas. With their revolutionary history, murky looks, and easy-to-carry size, it was the perfect option.

Now that I was clear on my mission statement, I needed contributors. I first looked to high school to find bad artists and creators. In a short speech I gave to nearly all my classes, I explained what my project was all about, and that I was looking for bad writing, drawings, paintings, and poems to include. I gave no other specifications than the state of simply being “bad.” I expected this to be met by looks of confusion, but to my surprise (and delight) my peers seemed to understand what I was getting at. I also took to social media to gain fuel for my project, so as not to exclude my far away friends. I received many submissions from friends and classmates, and a sizeable amount even thought to include why they deemed their particular art bad.

What they said surprised me. Instead of simply giving general criticisms like “idk I’m just a bad artist,” I was given heartfelt stories of these artists’ shortcomings. One of my classmates labelled her submission bad because she felt she couldn’t do her subject justice. Another explained that she had hurriedly and poorly sketched a man on the bus in hopes she’d meet him again. Someone else joked that, though they had first hated their drawing, it now made them laugh because it reminds them of Napoleon Dynamite. I was touched by the amount of people who’d reached out to me, and was excited to put the zine together.

Funnily enough, as I assembled the zine, I found myself guilty of what I was trying to fight against. I was afraid the zine would turn out poorly, or that the contributors would be upset it wasn’t better. I persevered through my own self-doubt, though, and it ultimately paid off. Once I’d finished the zine, I began selling it at school. I sold more copies than I could print, and the zine circulated well in the months before Christmas. But the best part was the feedback from the contributors. “This makes me so happy, that all these people would be brave enough to show people their failures,” said a classmate. Others were simply happy to be published. It was an incredibly positive experience.

I have now finished a magazine edition of the zine, and plan to continue with the project, but probably sticking with a zine format. As one of the contributors pointed out, one should “keep it raw, that’s where revolution happens.” I look forward to collecting more “bad” art. There is too much pressure to be perfect with creativity that we are blinded from its original purpose: self-expression and enlightenment.

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