The Art of Being Ridiculous

Art should be fun — most of the time, at least. And, if it’s not fun, it should at least be enjoyable. So what happens when we’re facing a project and we’re not finding any pleasure in it?

That was the position I found myself in recently.  This little assignment began before my holiday break — and was, in fact, one of the reasons why I stepped away from the easel. I’ve been following the lessons from Oil Painting Step-by-Step by Arnold Fletcher, and for the most part, I’ve been enjoying the practice sessions. So far it’s been mostly practicing with poster paints on newsprint, learning about colors, shapes, and composition.

But then I came to a lesson I didn’t want to do. It was a lesson on “Grouping Outdoor Objects”.  Once I came to this horrendous assignment, I put the book aside. I found lots of reasons not to pick it up again.

Before proceeding, let me just show you my disastrous newsprint and poster paint assignment for the day. Don’t laugh. Well, of course you’ll laugh. It’s ridiculous, and that’s because I deliberately made it into something ridiculous.

The Ridiculous Harbor Scene (2)
The Ridiculous Harbor Scene – Poster Paint on Newsprint

I look at this and think, Well, at least it’s colorful. Obviously I spent very little time drawing and painting this scene. The ships and buildings are all out of proportion, and it’s almost impossible to tell what’s what. But, that’s the point.

Here was the assignment from Fletcher’s book:

“The list of things we are going to incorporate into a picture is: warehouses, cranes, a quayside, crates, a large ship, small tug, yachts, buoys and seagulls.”

What? My mind reeled after reading this. I was supposed to draw yachts and buoys? I don’t know what a yacht even looks like. And a small tug? A large ship? I have no first-hand personal experience with any of these things.

And why, exactly, would I want to draw these things? I wouldn’t. But this was my assignment, so what was I supposed to do? Argue about it? Rather a waste of time since I’m my own teacher.

But seriously, folks, what’s the best approach to take when I come to assignments that I really don’t like and really, really don’t want to do? Do I say, “Oh, that’s all right. We’ll just skip this lesson”, or do I say “Just do the best you can,” and move on?

I found a third approach: do the assignment, but turn it into something fun.

Fletcher does say that the completed drawing might be “a little less real” than drawings from other lessons, and his instructions were to “only draw the main shapes.” So I focused on the shapes.

And I grimaced at Fletcher’s counsel to “Go ahead then, and have a really good time.” I knew before I even started that I would not “have a good time” painting this. I knew, at best, I would come away with a childish-looking painting, and that’s when I decided to just go for it. Why not make it into a fun painting by deliberately choosing to create something childish, something others might consider absolutely ridiculous?

So, that’s exactly what I did. It made a difficult assignment bearable, at least, if not downright fun.  And while I often hear music in my head as I’m drawing or painting, this exercise brought a favorite childhood poem to mind. It’s The Height of the Ridiculous by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I’ve loved that silly little poem from the time I first read it.

All in all, I came away from my practice painting with a smile on my face. I completed my assignment — albeit in my own way — and I did have a little fun doing it.

What did I learn? Maybe nothing about composition, shapes, or colors, but I learned that it’s all right to make ridiculous art.  Sometimes that’s exactly what we need.





  1. More than once, when I have complained about a creative exercise, my sister has told me: change it! Do what YOU want to do with it! She’s a natural rebel and automatically breaks the rules no matter what they are. But I think she makes a good point: we make art because we want to make art. So we’re allowed to pick and choose what we actually do, even if we’re learning something new. You found one solution to the problem, but you could also have changed the list of items to things you actually are interested in and painted them. The important thing is that you found the fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your sister is wise! And so are you. 🙂 Yes, we make art because we want to make art. I had fun, and I have the right now to say, “Well, yes, I did the exercise.” LOL. So now I feel good about moving on to the next lesson in the book.


    1. I’ve never heard that expression! Thank you so much for sharing. I have a feeling I’ll find good use for that phrase as I continue with my art studies. 🙂


  2. I am totally relating to this post. There’s been times I was so unhappy with the results of an art piece that I would start to do ridiculous things to it, then laugh at myself. Sometimes the ridiculous thing turned out to be a new idea in how to re-work the art though. Sometimes in ended as a crumpled piece in the garbage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That “ridiculous attitude” is what I’m taking with me into this new year. I’m giving myself permission to make lots of mistakes and lots of messes. It’s what I need now most of all, I think. I’m glad to know that others sometimes also feel this need to be a little ridiculous and just stop fretting about what we’re doing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. I think you did exactly right, Judith. You made it fun and you made me laugh for sure. Haha. And I don’t know. We’ll always have to do things we don’t like. It’s painful but it usually leads to growth and even strength. I think you did very well with this. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely appreciate the vote of confidence on my approach! There’s no way I could have done this exercise from a “serious” perspective. It was an instance where I had to give myself permission to just do whatever I could regardless of how bad it would be. I suppose that sounds terrible to some people, but it’s sometimes the only way I can get through a difficult project. If I can’t have fun with art and enjoy what I’m doing, what’s the point in doing it?

      Liked by 1 person

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