Superfluity—or, why you should make bad art

frog eggs.jpg

Nature is wasteful.

How wasteful is it? I’m glad you asked. Without crushing you with real numbers, I will point out dandelions, pine trees, frogs, and mushrooms. Think of the number of seeds each and every dandelion produces. Think of that thick yellow coating of pine pollen every spring. Think of those science class videos of frogs laying a huge packet of eggs. Think of the enormous number of spores produced by your favorite mushrooms.

Even mammals, who have gotten the whole egg thing down to a manageable size, rely on way more sperm to do the job than is strictly necessary.

What’s my point?

Ask yourself: are we overwhelmed by dandelions, pine forests, frogs, or mushrooms? You would think that the gazillion eggs laid every year would create a biblical plague of frogs, or that our gardens and lawns would be nothing but dandelions.

But that doesn’t happen. As I used to tell parents at the state-level interviews for the Governor’s Honors Program who asked what happened if their child weren’t one of the 700 finalists (out of 3,000 nominees): Not all baby sea turtles make it. Most don’t in fact. But to get the three or four sea turtles we need to keep having sea turtles, we have to hatch dozens.

Most don’t make it—but some do.

Without the most that don’t, you won’t get the ones who do.

Without the “all the lesser but nevertheless competent composers that dotted the musical landscape of the Age of Enlightenment,” as Professor Peter Schickele called them — without them, Mozart wouldn’t have had a market for his perfection.

Without all the crappy art most of us produce—the barely passable fantasy novels, the derivative music, the uninspired cocktails—there will be no environment that could possibly produce Neil Gaiman or Lin-Manuel Miranda or Sother Teague.

So your excuse that you’re not Making the Thing That Is Not because you wouldn’t be good at it? Pfft, that’s a lie you tell yourself, and a dangerous one at that.

Remember that by creating your bad art, you are sustaining an ecosystem, a web of creative humans who support each other and provide opportunities for our next Mozart or Shakespeare to come into being. Nature needs your bad art, even if it’s doomed to be eaten before it even reaches the ocean.

And if you’re smart, you’ll make lots of bad art, won’t you? Now you’re learning.

Because it’s turtles all the way down.