Why You Shouldn’t Stop Making Bad Art

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Why You Shouldn't Stop Making Bad Art

I make a lot of things that you will never see.

Take my writing for example. When I write I often begin on 750words.com, a private online journal. I write anything that comes. It’s a helpful starting place where I can get words out and forget about them. When I’m writing I don’t want the pressure to make sure every word counts and every idea is good. I need the space to just make. I need to make and make and make. Later I’ll come back and see if it’s any good.

Some will be good. Quite a bit will not be good. But I can’t know that until after I’ve begun.


The same thing happens in my photography. We’ll come back from the typical wedding with between 1200 and 3000 images on our memory cards. We immediately import and back up all of them. Then we begin the tedious task of culling: sorting out the bad, then sorting out the good, and finally choosing the great images.

The great ones are what gets edited, and eventually delivered to the client.

That’s around 400-600 images.

That’s between 13% and 40% of the images we make, depending on the wedding.

Of those images, we put a handful on our blog. Usually 20-30 images.

That’s between 0.6% and 2% of the original batch of images.

That’s a lot that no one will see.

Ira Glass is often quoted talking about the difficulty of excelling in your art form and making bad things:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.” –Ira Glass (Transcribed from this interview)

You always have to be willing to create bad art in order to create good art. What Ira Glass doesn’t say here is that the risk is still there, even when you’ve been doing your work for years.

In order to discover the true potential and beauty in what you do, you have to start by creating something that could be awful.

You get better over the years, for sure. The more I write, the better I get. The more I photograph and edit, the better I get. But it’s foolish to think that an artist arrives at a point where everything they touch is gold. It’s not. It can’t be. Every day the things you make may be awful. It has to have the potential to be really bad. If it doesn’t, then you’re also missing the chance for it to be ground-breaking-ly good.

If you remove the potential for bad art, you also remove the potential for great art.

Both ends of the spectrum require each other.

Not only do you have to fight your way through the gap between what you make and what you want to make, you must also face the fear of making something bad every day.

Before you make something great, you have to start by being willing to make something terrible. [tweet that] If you want to create a body of work that truly makes an impact, you have to do this every day.

I write a lot of things that aren’t worth your time to read. I take a lot of terrible photos. But I do them because I hope that I can and will also create something good — or even great. I make bad art so that I can share some of the good art, and that some of those good things will actually be great things. I create bad things so that you will be moved by the good ones.

Go risk making terrible things so that you can make the best possible things.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 10 Comments On This Post.

  1. This really resonates with me and makes me think about how we each have limited time here to create. The sooner we get on with making imperfect things the sooner we can get to making things closer to that ideal instead of being paralyzed by not meeting that ideal.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants.

    • It’s a great reminder about having limited time— thanks for that! Glad I could kick you in the pants. Now go make stuff!

  2. Yay, what a great read this morning! My morning paper wasn’t delivered so I googled around instead and found this post
    TODAY I start uni course on Creative methods for promoting health and wellbeing… 😉

    • Hi Anna! And thanks! It’s great to hear from you again 🙂 I’m so glad your paper wasn’t delivered 😉

  3. What a great point! In fact, there’s a lot of great points in this post. As a musician, it’s hard to think about creating stuff that will never make the album, but that’s the way it is. It’s the way of nature. Think of how many seeds fall from a tree – how many of them become trees?

    Definitely glad I found this site. I actually heard of it from the 1 Day Business Breakthrough podcast. Nice work!

    • Thanks Steve! Seeds are a great metaphor for this idea!

      So glad you came by to check things out! I’m so grateful for the 1DBB community! I’ve learned so much already!

  4. As a songwriter I see this play out in my own work all the time. Great read!

  5. This is really great to hear, I keep getting upset at my art because to me it’s not “good enough” it isnt as great as DestinyBlues and I compare my art to that level of skill, and I know I shouldnt because I will always be disappointed, but I still keep doing it and trying to make it better. Ill develop a style eventually and Ill get better, all it requires is practice. :3 you totally got it on the spot though it really helped remind me that I shouldnt do that.

    • dan

      Hi Shannon! Thanks for your comment, and I’m so glad you linked to your work! Keep going and keep making. You’re already making such beautiful things!

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