Riding Shotgun: That Thing of Doing Bad Art Zenly

The creation of bad art as a way to relax and be happy explains an awful, awful lot.

I have embraced the “Zen of doing things badly” for years without really knowing it. For many men of a certain age, they find it through golf. It’s a game that involves a lot of skill, which almost nobody has, and so most everybody plays it atrociously. And yet they come away joyful and relaxed.

For me, it’s painting. I’ll go to the AC Moore, pick up a handful of acrylics and lay bloody waste to an unsuspecting canvas. The last one was a few months ago — an artistic monster of multimedia involving photographs (which I actually do well) and words and glops and globs of paint. It looks like something a troll vomited up, then decided to save for later by hanging it on our bedroom wall.

But I had fun. And I don’t care that it sucks. Since every painting I’ve ever attempted has sucked, this one’s suckitude came as no surprise.

It’s relaxing. It’s ego-free. It’s Zen. And I naively believed I was the only one. But thinking about it now, I realize that the creation of bad art as a way to relax and be happy explains an awful, awful lot.

Pauly Shore, for one. Here’s a man who has made one celluloid stinker after another, and yet he’s a perpetually grinning mellow machine. His career is so far in the toilet Roto-Rooter couldn’t dislodge it, and yet every time he breaks the surface of the national consciousness, he just smiles and shrugs and goes blissfully on his stupid, awful way.

And American Idol. Thousand of no-talent wastes bellowing their faces off on national TV just for a chance of being smacked around by an English prick. And they’re just so overjoyed to be there.

There’s Jennifer Love Hewitt. This little giggle-fest is just pleased as punch to be star in a second-rate Medium that’s named after a Redford flick that most Redford fans wish had gone straight to video.

There is a direct correlation, it seems, between happiness and the creation of bad art.

Tom Cruise is more excited about the opening of Mission: Impossible III than the brainwashing, er, birth of his baby girl. And I don’t need super spy skills to know that even Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain du sequel won’t make this worth the $8.50.

And let’s not forget Jessica Simpson. Years of cranking out passionless, pointless ballads has stored up so much positive energy that even the loss of her husband and her new career as a Pizza Hut spokesmodel isn’t enough to wipe that vapid smile off her acne-free face.

On the other hand, sometimes bad art is actually good art, but we don’t realize it until later. There was Van Gogh, whom everyone thought was a hack but was actually a genius and therefore was so unhappy he cut off his ear. And Lenny Bruce. Everyone thought this was just some shmuck who liked to curse on stage, but he was really a comic revolutionary, and instead of being happy he funneled his extraordinary anger back into his work.

Sadly, the line between truly bad art and good-art-that-people-think-is-bad-until-after-the-artist-is-dead is a blurry one. Sometimes people making bad-art-that-turns-out-later-to-be-good are happy. And sometimes people who make bad-art-that-really-is-shit are gloom-monsters. Usually, it’s not until the artist is dead that the world judges once and for all whether this bad art is really so bad.

Which is reason #247 why Pauly Shore must die.

Aaaah … now that’s what I call Zen.

Article © 2006 by Steve Spotswood