Blog: B is for BAD
Will the Bad and the Very Bad please stand up.
Who among you will admit to creating VERY BAD art? Okay, I’ll start.
Recenty I realized that my early lessons in art appreciation and literary awareness came from my father. He had a hobby, which we kids followed with keen (if often confused) interest. Like Adam naming the animals, Father was called to Name the Bad Stuff.
In a restaurant he would pronounce which were the Good waitresses and which were Bad — the Bad being “not-at-all-pretty.” The fact that the coffee was cold or my waffle came without syrup did not effect the ultimate pronouncement of “Good” or “Bad.” It was entirely dependent on the sweetness of the smile and the way the uniform fit around her bosom. I took note. Music on the radio, plays, books, TV shows, clothing, fingerpainting, fried eggs, steak, and historical figures were categorized with equal ease. It went something like this:
Lee, Lincoln, Grant, Burnside, and Beauregarde: Good
Mary Queen of Scots: Bad — even though she was pretty
Cleopatra: Bad –probably not even that pretty
Henry VII: Good
Dean Martin: Good — it’s very difficult to play drunk (Father was an actor)
Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand: Bad — too full of themselves to perform without mugging
George C. Scott: Good
Stravinsky: Bad — impossible for a civilized ear to listen to
Modern Art: Bad — impossible to look at, a child could do it (A bad child? I wondered.)
Rock and Roll, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Chris Christofferson: Bad — poorly executed, subject matter slight
Johnny Cash, Marty Robins, Eddy Arnold, Ray Price: Good — no reason
Loretta Lynn: Bad — not very pretty
Patsy Cline: Good –pretty
Mozart, Beethoven, Bach: Not Bad
Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Rilke: Bad — impenetrable
Patrick O’Brien: Good
A. E. Houseman: Good
Mary Renault: Good (writes like a man)
Female Authors: Bad (can’t write, boring)
The last of these was the scariest. Being a girl, I would never be able to write. He had a few exceptions to the “Women Cannot Write” rule…. One was Mary Renault, an author I also admired, but despaired of emulating. Later he explained that Mary Renault’s abilities might spring from the fact that she was, perhaps, a lesbian — a fact that further confused me about the steps I would need to take before I too could learn to write like a man. Boy crazy as I was, it seemed certainly impossible to acheive that clear, precise, passionate and wise voice, which I admired in “The King Must Die” and “Fire From Heaven.”
Cover of Mary Renault’s novel about Alexander the Great
Often I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t always even tell the difference between the writings “male” and the writings “female.” Sometimes I secretly preferred the female writers…..their stories were more interesting. Father was very disappointed whenever I could not make it through a book on the preferred authors list.
Although I tried in every way to be a GOOD girl and a GOOD daughter, we did occasionally bang heads. Huckleberry Finn was the first book I refused to finish. I got bored because there were no girls, and I just really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. This was a BAD sign, an omen of rebellions to come, a tiny split in my perfection, and for me a crucial signal that:
I HAVE BAD TASTE.
Having BAD TASTE means that anything I write or create will be BAD. Perhaps VERY BAD. With fifty-some years under my belt, a few strange revelations have, however slowly, come to pass. If I am going to create (and I can’t seem to help myself) I am going to have to be what I am. If I am BAD, or VERY BAD, so be it. I am a BAD POET. I am a BAD novelist and a BAD WRITER. I am a BAD PHOTOGRAPHER.
Okay, I am a BAD ARTIST. That’s the breaks. That’s what I am.
Time to embrace it and be bad to the bone, as bad as I can be, extremely bad and thus extremely myself.
Self Portrait, Stacy Ericson, iPhone 2011
This is the same for everyone, isn’t it? If we don’t risk being BAD, we will not create — because at the root, isn’t that what we all fear? All kinds of artists fear the label: BAD. “That was a bad show.” “That is a bad painting.” “Those are some really bad poems.” “What a bad drawing.” “Terrible, bad, film.”
At least, I can aspire to hanging out in the special crummy, smoke-blackened pub in heaven where the other BAD individuals gather. Maybe among T. S. Eliot, Maya Angelou, Queen Elizabeth, Xue Tao and Elizabeth Bishop, Alison Weir, Catarina von Hemessen, Artemsia Gentileschi and Cleopatra, we can get some kind of “Outsider’s Art” exhibit going. Some of us can read a chapter from our BAD novels. Others can describe how we seduced Caesar. Elliot can read “Prufrock.” I think it will be kind of fun.
Last week when I saw Dad, he shook his head and asked, “You are not still taking pictures of fencelines?”
I answered. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Stacy Ericson is an editor, poet, and photographer addicted to imagery both in word and in art. Her work often reflects her roots in the western states and an abiding interest in other cultures, ancient languages and religions, and other visceral passions. She lives and works in Boise, Idaho. Her poetry, fiction, essays, and photos can be found at the old bouquet , while fine art and portrait work can be seen on her professional website Stacy Ericson Photography.