The Ugly Painting

Smoke Free III

What is beauty?

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s definitely true when it comes to art. But have you ever asked an artist about their ‘ugly’ art? That is, the pieces they’ve created and never shown anyone because they (the artist) didn’t like how the artwork turned out? 

I bring this up because I was talking to my daughter the other day about a painting she had started but not finished. It was interesting, but she hadn’t worked on it recently, so I asked her what her plans were to complete it. Her response was, ‘I’m not doing anything with it – it’s ugly, and I can’t fix it.” When I asked her why not just paint over it and start again, she said, “I can’t do that. It’s wrecked! You don’t understand!”

I don’t understand?

Now, she’s a teenager, and I’m her mom, so I get why she thinks I might not understand – it’s the plight of all parent-teenage relationships. Parents don’t ‘get it.’ But here’s what I realized – while she was used to seeing me work on my paintings and mixed media art, and she’s familiar with what my final artwork looks up like, she’s never realized that for every 5 or 6 pieces I like and end up selling, there’s at least one hideous piece that I hate!

So, in the flash that I realized all this – that she never noticed not everything I’ve created has been a masterpiece (say what?!) – I asked her to come with me, and we went down to the garage, where my studio is. There, I unrolled about 10-12 canvases, which I’d removed from their stretchers. The canvases were all unfinished, ugly-ass paintings! Pardon my French. And I told her, “Listen, Kiddo – anyone who makes things messes up. Artists, writers, musicians, chefs, homebuilders. It doesn’t matter what you make. Everyone makes mistakes. And here’s the thing, art supplies aren’t cheap, which is why I’ve never thrown these canvases away. And some of my favorite paintings have been repainted over and over until I felt I got it right.” The painting in this post was three different paintings before I felt it was complete.

It’s all a learning process.

Like the rest of life, making art is a learning process – you have to enjoy the journey and not let the ugly paintings slow you down. Keep at it, and you’ll figure it out. Walk away, circle back later. Go in a completely different direction. However, you approach it, enjoy the journey. And always remember – it’s all about progress, not perfection! 

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