By Lindsey Szeszol
Glen Ellyn Art Therapist
I’ve been thinking a lot about “ugly” art recently. Many people I’ve talked to have expressed they don’t create art because they feel they don’t have enough skill. They feel that if their art doesn’t look a certain way, then it’s not worth making. However, this way of thinking might just cause us to miss out on a deep source of joy. Embracing the “ugly” side of art might be just what you need.
As an art therapist, I focus mainly on the process of art making, and less on the way the final artwork looks. For this reason I often request that my clients try to step away from focusing solely on making a visually appealing art piece, and instead focus on the experience itself. This is easier said than done! Almost all of the people I work with struggle to let go of their notions of what “good” and “bad” art looks like. And no wonder; letting go of our preconceived notions is hard!! Clients tend to dismiss all of their amazing, creative ideas and expressions because their art doesn’t look how they expect. However, once my clients successfully work on letting go of these judgment terms, they often find themselves surprised by the amount of creativity they are capable of.
Society has convinced us that in order to do something we must be the best at it, and so we feel we must succeed in creativity as well. You can see this in children; ask a room full of kindergarteners, “Who can draw?” and every hand goes up in the room. By 6th grade, you might get less than half of that number from the same group. Somewhere along the way, we learn to compare ourselves to the masters; people that have spent their entire lives honing their specific skills to represent the world as realistically as possible. We are shown art that took someone’s entire lives to master and told that these masterpieces are what art is. We learn that if what we create doesn’t look similar to these pieces, then it isn’t worthwhile. And while our art may not look like the masters, the process of creating can be vital to our overall well being.
Humans were meant to create. We do this naturally: singing in the car, choosing the layout and style of the places we live, creating jokes with friends, coming up with new recipes, or learning the latest TikTok dance. Embracing our unique creative processes can relax us, nourish us, connect us to our community, or express our emotions. When we start to appreciate our creative process for how it serves us, and lessen our focus on the “good”, we learn to connect to the creative flow we were designed for.
Here’s the secret to breaking out of the “pretty” and “ugly” mold: play. Stop taking the creative process seriously and start looking at the joy it can bring you. Will things turn out different than you imagined? Absolutely. But part of play is embracing the unexpected. Learn how to utilize those serendipitous moments to further your process. You might just learn to embrace imperfection.
So strive for the “ugly”, embrace the “bad”, and learn to embrace the unexpected. It could just be the best art you make.