When Bad Art Is Good

Our love of imperfection is what keeps the world real

| March / April 2003

Bad design is good design. And tasteful good design, likewise, is bad. Not good-bad, just bad-bad. Now that “perfect” design is possible with the click of a mouse, the industrialized world has become nostalgic for “imperfect” design. As computer-aided everything takes over our lives we begin to realize, little by little, what is missing from the high-tech world. We realize that a crooked line sometimes has more soul than a perfectly straight one and that a recording that has just the right amount of distortion is often preferable to a perfect copy. Woe unto us when the medical profession perfects their newest genetic and cloning techniques! We might actually realize that our imperfections are what makes us human.

The easier it becomes to produce perfection, in design, grammar, rhythm, and pitch, the more those who have the earliest and easiest access to that perfection want to abandon it. In a kind of reverse snobbism, Web designers and trendy magazine editors use the latest software programs to imitate the work of anonymous designers and artists. They use high-end computers to imitate the work of people who can’t even afford a computer. These unsung artists are the sources of inspiration for programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXPress, or Pro Tools, but never in their lives have they had access to, or even dreamed of, these tools.