The case for bad art

The opinions expressed in The Lawrentian are those of the students, faculty and community members who wrote them. The Lawrentian does not endorse any opinions piece except for the staff editorial, which represents a majority of the editorial board. The Lawrentian welcomes everyone to submit their own opinions. For the full editorial policy and parameters for submitting articles, please refer to the About section.

I was on a run with a friend the other day and we got on to the subject of poetry. I told her about some of my work and then described myself as “a bad poet.” She immediately took offense: “Don’t say that, Eli. I’m sure your work is great!” I appreciated the encouragement but had to clarify that it wasn’t self-deprecating; I am actually proud of that title and call myself a bad poet on purpose. She was confused. My poems are important to me and almost every minute of my free time goes into brainstorming and writing them. So why would I say my poems are bad?  

Poetry is a very uptight art form, easy to write off as posh or stuffy. I did too, for most of my life, the only exposure I had to poetry being AP Language and Literature courses. When I started begrudgingly writing my own poems for assignments, they didn’t align with what I was taught to be “good” poetry. Even now, after nearly three years, I often don’t have a specific form and definitely don’t spend hours picking the perfect words. I write whatever comes to mind, my meanings usually quite obvious. They’re not good, and that’s fine. I don’t want to write good poems — I want them to be ugly and raw and sometimes rudimentary. I want them to be bad. 

My friend apologized for her assumption, saying that she calls herself a bad dancer on purpose. She’s never had any formal training and dances for fun, moving her body in “awkward” and “bad” ways. She told me it was extremely freeing to move how you want, dance how you want, be how you want without the expectations of the form. Once you embrace yourself as bad at something, there’s no need to be good. There’s no need to be afraid of people’s judgment.  

Dancing isn’t the only activity she’s comfortable being “bad” at either. She was one of the only friends I could convince to run with me. Many of my friends run but refuse to join me when I ask because I am a collegiate distance runner. They tell me that they’re too slow or too inexperienced. They think they’re bad at running and can’t run with me because I’m good at it. Well, I’m slower than a lot of people too, so by their logic, I’m a bad runner as well — in fact, you’re a bad runner by these standards if you’re not a world record holder. 

In forms as broad as dance or running or poetry, these types of arguments don’t hold up. I’ve done musical theater for over a decade and have performed in many tap and jazz ensembles. Does that make me a good dancer? I’m terrible at ballet; does that make me a bad dancer? I have the slowest mile time on the cross country team — this means I’m bad at running, right? On the other hand, I’m the only marathoner on the team, so does that suddenly mean I am a good runner again? For as many people that tell me I’m good at running or good at dancing, the same amount question how I even run or dance in college with the times and performances I put up. Good and bad in this context only exist within comparison. If there were no other runners in the world, no one could call me good or bad because they have no frame of reference. 

So really, being bad at something is strange and arbitrary and entirely impossible to quantify. Which leads me to my biggest question: why is everyone terrified of it? Someone will always think you’re bad or good or just okay, no matter how much experience or practice you have, so what’s the point in stopping yourself? Go for that run, take that dance class, write that poem. Be bad at something and see where it takes you.