Bad Art, or Why Did I Stop Trying?

butterfly fantasy
A bad recreation of a painting that I have a complicated relationship with.

I’ve been in a slow, painful decline of creative output. This is not entirely true, but it’s the story I tell myself. The truth is, that I still have sporadic creative output, but it’s shifted to more ephemeral experiences, such as cooking, baking, sewing (which never seems to be completed), and musing on these pursuits on the daily.

In preparation for my mom moving to Washington, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my past, whether I’ve wanted to or not. Part of that includes remembering those things I used to do regularly. Draw, paint, write, play music. I’ve tried many instruments. I’ve belted out song with a guitar I mostly taught myself how to play. I used to play the piano, even, though not very well. My music reading is basic, at best, but I had aspirations. I have stacks and stacks of stories and poetry. Piles of paper and canvases, including those two years at a prestigious art school. I had friends back in Chicago who would creatively set fire beneath one another.

I lost that, and slowly resigned myself into being a former aspirational artist.

I even start blog posts that are unfinished. This one promises to be rambly, but I’ll publish it anyway.

*deep breath*

What was the big turning point? Where did I start to finally doubt that I couldn’t actually hack it and become the professional artist of my dreams?

It wasn’t when I left art school in 1998, which I often excused as a money-saving venture, but it really didn’t save me anything other than the complete decline of faith in myself.

It’s that fucking painting (see above). The real painting was part of my final for my Freshman 2D art class. It was to be my finest moment. I had decided that I wanted to finally do a large-scale emulation of the work that I’d been so excited about over the past 6 years – the art of great fantasy illustrators like Larry Elmore and other cover artists doing work for TSR. Though we were to base something off of sketches we did on a field trip to the Field Museum, I decided I’d use that as a thin pretext for a Celtic fantasy butterfly magical romp.

To be fair, what I turned in was unfinished. It lacked polish. It needed work. I was disappointed in the perspective and the depth of the piece. My classmates and teacher were unimpressed, and I took it home to my mom, thinking I’d finish it one day. Instead, I spent every visit taking it off the wall where she proudly hung it, and trying to hide it behind the couch. I told her I hated it. I told her to throw it away. Then she moved. Then she framed it. She FRAMED that piece of shit. Now she’s moving to Washington, and to my dismay, I gave her the OK to throw out so many other things, but I wanted to tell her, “PLEASE don’t bring that painting.”

Art school didn’t work for me on a few levels. One was the fact that I lacked internal discipline, and wasn’t prepared to develop it yet. Then there was the fact that I was in way over my head. I wasn’t mature enough to handle some of the work that needed to be done. I needed mentorship, but didn’t know how to get it. Then there’s the work I wanted to do. As much as I loved making abstract art, anyone can do that without art school. The work I revered were comics and illustration, but it was a challenged to do, and instead of trying over and over again to get it right, I gave up.

It’s 20 years since I started art school, I’ve got two kids, and I’m a bit terrified that I’ve given up all my opportunities. I’m having to restructure how I think about things, but after this long post, I think I’ll save that for another time.