My Weakly Walk: On Originality and Failure

One of my weekend pleasures is tuning into CBS Sunday Morning and seeing what the show, specifically Bill Geist, has to offer. He never fails, and my inspiration this week comes from his segment, A Tour of the Museum of Bad Art.

Housed in the basement of the Somerville Movie Theater in Massachusetts, the Museum of Bad Art is run by “Permanent Acting Interim Director” Louise Sacco, which I guess means she is always the Acting Director whenever there is no Director, and as settled into the position as she seemed, must always be the case. I also couldn’t help but notice her title spelled out PAID.

Take a few minutes to watch:


Ms. Sacco left me chewing on a few quoteworthy morsels about art, for whether you realize it or not, writing is an art—a crafting of original literary compositions—as surely as any of the other fine arts.

“Bad art is, first of all, art…it’s sincere and original and something went wrong in a way that’s interesting…we’re not interested in anything that’s just boring.

“People sometimes send us pieces that were deliberately made to be bad and you can see right through that…it’s fake bad and it shows.”

And the last is her response to the question posed by Bill at the end of the segment, “Has any artist ever sued you for defamation?” to which she answered:

“Most artists are happy to find that their work is in our museum and the reason is because artists are trying to communicate something and we are exhibiting and celebrating work…celebrating an artist’s right to fail.”

For me, this brings to mind the importance of being original versus following trends; that following trends is transparent and leaves the reader empty. Like the fake bad art, it’s not a sincere attempt at a unique piece, but a filling-in-the-blanks of a worn-out paint-by-number. Sincere and original stories—even when considered “bad”—are an artist’s right to fail, to experience growth, and if interesting enough, are “good” in their own right.

I may never create my own Mona Lisa (or War and Peace, as the case may be), but I’ll learn from each Mana Lisa, and in time, will see what work of art comes of it.

How about you? What do these quotes on originality, “bad” art, and failure mean to you? If you’re an non-writer (or not pursuing the arts) how can you apply them to your life?


ML Swift

MikeBeachML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.

An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.

He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.


22 thoughts on “My Weakly Walk: On Originality and Failure

  1. Sometimes I think I’m the queen of failed attempts, but you know what? That’s ok. I attempted. That speaks volumes. I’d rather see someone try and fail than never try at all. That means they’re taking risks. They’re trying. They’re living.

    1. True! But I prefer to keep my failures under wraps (that’s actually only half true. I don’t want to share my literary failures, but I watercolor just for fun, and use my efforts as cards for friends and family all the time. And believe me, as a watercolorist I am a colossal failure!)

    2. Exactly, Jenny…my failed attempts never see the light of day, at least for now. They’re put away for shredding and packing material or maybe one last stab in the distant future. I don’t consider anything a failure if I learn something from it.

      And Rebecca, yes…mine are under wraps, too. I’ve also painted in life and hated when someone would see it in progress. It would be critiqued before ever finished. It is up to me what I want to put out there for scrutiny, what I want the world to see, and that is an end product of which I can be proud…even my hobbies. But I’m sure you minimize your watercolor skills. I can’t imagine a non-creative work coming out of you.

    3. Oddly, my painting is neither creative nor technically competent. I can only paint from photos, because they have already done the hard work of reducing it to 2 dimensions. Perhaps if I had technique, I could be creative, but that would require the kind of work at this point I’m not willing to put into it.

    4. Exactly! Some creative endeavors are for ourselves–good for the soul, but not meant for others’ souls.

    1. My thoughts as well, Alex. Try anything and risk everything…you may fall or soar, but you’ll be in a different spot than you were, and that’s usually a good thing. Even the losses can be wins.

  2. I loved that you took this story to compare it to writing. Ingeneous. It is alright to fail with our art ( writing), but I don’t know how much I would want it hanging about for others to point at as “bad.”

    1. I know…I shudder about that too, Leanne. My only hope is for my writing to effectively communicate the message I want to send, whatever that may be. Thanks for coming by!

  3. This was so very good, Mike. Sharing-worthy. How very true and how wonderful that someone is celebrating the beauty in failure. Boy, do I need to remember this as I fight for each word. Thanks.

  4. I love the words used in the video to describe each piece and must keep them in mind when others talk about my writing…”compelling…striking…intriguing” … code for “awful” Haha! Loved this post Michael, it was quite compelling. hehe.

  5. I agree with Elise – “celebrating an artist’s right to fail” definitely resonated with me. It’s an ongoing struggle; while I intellectually believe that we learn through failure, and that mistakes are central to real growth, when it comes to my own life and work, I HATE failing. Mistakes SUCK. I would much, much rather just succeed at the first go. So…that’s part of my work, I think: learning how to fail. Certainly querying is teaching me a whole lot about this 😉

  6. Absolutely loved that video. Now I have a place to send some things I’ve not known what to do with. I think I’m a collector of bad art, but I didn’t know it. 🙂 And in that video I saw some things I kind of liked. Hold me back before I steal from that museum.

    I wonder if there’s a Museum of Bad Writing?

  7. My favorite is the lady riding the lobster. 🙂 Writing is art. Anything creative is art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The most important thing is to create. Somebody out there will appreciate it.

  8. Interesting piece, Mike. It’s funny how you pointed out Louise’s title acronym: PAID. I thought that was a hilarious observation on your part.

    Anyhoo, I think as artists we need to embrace our right to fail more often than we do. There is always beauty and growth in failure. It’s just a matter of insight and perspective.

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