Make Bad Art!

In defense of creation for creation’s sake

The creation of art is an essential aspect of human behavior. All the way back to cave paintings, humans have had the innate instinct to express themselves through the creation of art – whether stories, garments, paintings, architecture, or any of the hundreds of other methods of artistry, we all make art. It may not be conscious, and we may not call it that, but it’s art. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, the commodification of both art and leisure has changed the way we think about crafts and hobbies. It’s almost unheard of to make art just for the activity – we are expected to want to become famous, or “professional” (that wretched word), or at the very least make a few dollars peddling our work on Etsy.

Art for art’s sake is a thing of the past, which has had a twofold negative impact – one, people are no longer expected to do things just because they are enjoyable and two, a lot of art has become less sincere, for lack of a better word. We don’t make things because we want to realize the vision in our heads anymore – we make things because we think they will sell, or others will approve of them.

I think it’s crazy that this has happened to pretty much the whole world since, if you think about it logically, the only people who used to be worrying about making their art marketable were people who made art for a living. “Selling out” used to be a capital sin, and the reason people sold out was because they chose to prioritize money over the quality of their work.

So it would stand to reason that the people doing this were setting aside their sincerity for at least a pretty hefty check, right? 

In 2024, everyone is expected to make things marketable above all else, even if we know we aren’t going to make enough money to even buy a coffee. Workers are underpaid and the cost of living has risen astronomically in the past decade. Instead of focusing on compensating people fairly for their work or making the world a better place to live, we workers are expected to respond to the crumbling economy by dedicating all of our time to making money. The American dream of the self-made millionaire is no longer the ideal we hold up – we are expected to clock in to work and then market and sell the products of our leisure time on the internet in order to just scrape by in a shitty apartment with a car that doesn’t start half the year. 

Art – the psychologically and spiritually essential activity of the human being – has been reduced to something we can offer to the capitalist machine for a few more pennies from the billionaires who want us dead, anyway. How many of you have brought your crocheting or needlework into a public place, only to have people ask if you sell it anywhere? If you say no, the immediate question is, “Why not?” Why not give up another piece of your life and yourself in exchange for a little money?

Even those of us who do sell our art successfully are very rarely compensated for it fairly. The fact that most products on the shelves of stores are produced by slave labor or other unethical practices means that we have no grasp of how much it actually costs to produce something. $100 for a shirt sounds absurd, and why wouldn’t it? We sure don’t make enough money to be spending like that. But when the cost of materials is taken into account, and then the hourly rate to pay workers an actual living wage, things get a lot more expensive than they are now. Why would someone buy my handmade earrings when they can get the same thing for half the price at Hot Topic?

Capitalism doesn’t give us the choice to shop “ethically.” Underpaid workers scrape their pennies together to buy products made by other underpaid workers, while most of the money in the world rots in the coffers of a few CEOs. 

So what’s my point, other than that we’re all pretty much done for?

Here’s the thing: the economy sucks, most of us are two bad months away from homelessness, and we live in a system specifically designed to keep things that way.

However, we don’t have to give all of ourselves up. Art is not something that can be done “well” or “right.” This is a myth created and perpetuated by the late-stage capitalist elite who want us to see ourselves the way they do – in numbers and profit margins. This isn’t true.

Art is self-expression. It’s an activity we partake in, alone or not, in order to express ourselves, share beauty with others, and engage with the world around us. The art every person makes is their interpretation of the world, which is infinitely valuable. Everyone’s perspective is different in a way that is impossible to recreate, so in a way, there are as many different worlds as there are human beings – and art is how we can get even a glimpse inside someone else’s version of the world.

The act of creation. Photo by Los Muertos Crew via

Art is subjective, not objective. I know this sounds especially absurd to college kids like us since half of the academic experience is submitting your art – whether painting, writing, etc. – to professors for a grade. A value judgment.

But there’s no such thing as “good art” or “bad art.” There is only art that exists and art that does not. The act of creating itself is the important part of art, not the final product. We’re taught to look at the world in terms of products to be sold, but we have to change our perspective.

Art is meant to be an introspective, positive, spiritual and intellectual experience. It’s sitting down with yourself and your chosen medium and trying to bring the world in your head into 3D space in a way that makes sense to you. It’s self-soothing, helps us get to know ourselves better, and grounds us in our real lives.

So MAKE BAD ART! I don’t care if you consider yourself one or not – the title of Artist came free with being born human. Make things for the sake of making them, for the sake of experiencing the journey. Make things because you want to see them, not because you think others will want to – and I’m going to let you in on a secret. That’s how art that others want to see actually gets made. The art that actually resonates with people, affects them, and lasts, is art that is the truest possible expression of the artist’s thoughts and feelings.

It’s easy to make basic, “trendy” pieces that follow whatever the current formula for popularity is, but those things never last. None of the iconic songs of the past twenty years that every single person knows – like “Mr. Brightside”(The Killers), or “Love Story”(Taylor Swift) – were made because the artists were trying to make something marketable. They made them because they had a vision they needed to express, and that genuine sincerity is what has resonated with people ever since.

It sounds paradoxical, but it’s true – only when we let go of the goal of making popular, well-liked art will we be able to actually do so. Plus, recognition from others is a side effect of art, not the main goal. Art ten million people buy is just as valuable as art made in a dark room and then burned without being shown to anyone.

So lock your doors, turn off your phone, and make something. Make something for you, for the sake of creation, for the sake of working with your hands and trying to bring your thoughts into reality. You’ll find that, even if it turns out to be total shit, the experience of the work itself will have been worth it. Write poems and draw comics for you, that no one else ever sees or knows the meaning of or – God forbid – pays for. Art belongs to us, to our innermost humanity. It’s time to take it back.

Leave a Reply