the bad arts

by s.

Even the people you love the most have secret inner lives that they aren’t sure they can tell you about. You might not know they’re an incredible painter; you might have no clue that they are bad at feelings. Our feelings and our art are always the things closest to us, and it is hard to take criticism about either.

Dorothy and I used to talk a lot about how everyone is born into this world to make something. There are people who make families, people who make connections, and people who make art. It is possible to do all three, but it is unlikely that someone exists who does not fall into one of these categories, and if they do not, it is probably not for lack of trying. They are all of equal import, but it is the artists who tend to emerge from under the strangest and most interesting rocks. I spent a lot of time over the past week just beginning to know people. I couldn’t even tell you most of their names, but I could tell you all about some of the things that make them excited. I met someone who went to film school and is really, really interested in new media. I met a painter. I met someone heavily involved in digital magazine production. I met a bunch of writers. I started thinking about what it would mean for them to bring all of these skills together, and I started hatching plans for things that we could call “work” that would help accomplish this.

(It does not escape me that I have made a career out of being a glorified cheerleader.)

I know a lot of very, very talented artists, and most of them are terribly, terribly bad at other people. They are all damaged in ways that can make them hard to be with. The connectors, too, can be like artists in this respect: it takes a great deal of creativity to bring people together in meaningful ways. Some of the most stylish, poised, and charming people I know go home and see ugly, awful people in the mirror every day. I cheerlead for them the most; I cannot tell you why, but they tend to be my favorites. I get caught up a lot in this thought: is it possible to be a truly great creative without being really awful or really damaged in some way? Sometimes I think not, and then I know that this is as good a reason as any why I will never count myself among those people.

At the end of the day, I think it is better to be kind than it is to be brilliant, and while it is easy to say that this is untrue when we are talking about strangers – what if there was no Hemingway, we might say – it is very easy to understand when we consider the torments of the people that we know. We hurt on some of their behalfs. Some of them are simply too awful to even be around. Some artists are awful at being around and awful at their art, and you’ve gotta feel sorry for that. There are so many ways in which you don’t get to choose what you are good at, and where art is concerned it seems like the price is awfully high no matter what.

Genius just seems really hard to live with. This is one of the reasons that Steve Job’s death has affected so many of us so deeply: he may have had his own demons, but we never saw them. He was hard on his employees, but in a way that indicated he expected the best of them because he believed they were the best. I can’t think of another modern tech great whose genius isn’t tarnished by bravado. He seemed genuine, despite being both a genius and an artist. I think it is wrong, as many have noted, to group him in with our MLKs and our JFKs, but it does not sound extreme to me to say that he’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a messiah in my lifetime because I grew up worshipping human intelligence.

I have an email saved in my iPhone from one of the only people I can trust with my own damages, someone so smart it hurts a little to be around. It’s about being good and being kind and about bad art. “Life lessons,” it reads, “are about going after what you want:”

Make art in a world of bad art. Have babies in an underpopulated world running out of natural resources. The world needs good art precisely because there is so much crap. I had lunch with [musician name here] last week, who is releasing another record. Mostly she’s a painter now. And successful at it. Not my cup of tea but it doesn’t matter. I like her records, she’s fucking smart, and there are indeed people who are super into her paintings. But [country] is an easier place to just keep trying. They support the arts. They make a lot of bad art as a result, but whatever. I have a narrower world view. And this is all kind of pointless but I just felt uplifted by someone who doesn’t give up on their desire for creativity.

It is a heart-achingly warm and sunny day in Brooklyn, the kind made for a million iced coffees and a long walk over the Manhattan Bridge. I watched the water and I thought a lot about demons and about what it is in myself that seeks out the people with the worst ones and somehow tries to help, in the same way that I manage to get paid for turning other people’s talents into marketing. I guess at the end of the day it all comes down to the simple fact that art is really, really hard, and so is being smart, and if you are both of those things then it seems like someone should try to make that easier for you.