You have to Paint Badly

When I invite someone to take part in mail art, they often answer, but what kind of work can I send in? So I reply anything you'd like other people to see is fine. Yet, on seeing that no-one does anything, when I ask why, the answer is always I'm embarrassed because I'm no good. At this point, I explain that mail art is not a stage for showing off technical ability, so it doesn't matter if you are good or not.

At first I ingenuously thought that saying this would be enough, but in reality everyone hesitated and no-one produced anything, so I soon realised my terrible mistake. In saying "it doesn't matter if you're good or not" it sounds as though I'm really saying something like "...but obviously it's better if you're good". A huge mistake. So from then on, I started giving a different answer: "You mustn't be good! You have to paint badly!"

Thanks to this answer, more people started taking part in mail art and working spontaneously. Setting the condition that people paint badly is essential if they are to feel at ease, and this is the most important thing in painting, because it brings us back to its point of origin, which is the joy of painting, and not a test of technique.

But what does not being good, or painting badly mean? To answer this question in practical terms, I asked a number of people on various occasions to work with this in mind, and at the beginning, almost all the paintings they did were confusing and lacking in order. Nevertheless, on asking them again and again to produce more, I saw a new style begin to emerge.

The highly self-contradictory act of painting badly produced a kind of picture that was completely different from the usual. And this is not limited to the world of mail art, because by continuing to paint badly, it is really possible to create an ugly, personal, and unique style. This is how the most interesting new art comes into being, and it is here that creation begins.

From another point of view, if we consider the Japanese hand game janken, anyone putting his hand out with a moment's delay can easily win. When I spoke with the singer Tomoya Takaishi at an event for the disabled , Takaishi played a very strange version of the game with the audience. He began by inviting them to play with him, and when, for example, Takaishi called "stone" and then "paper", the spectators easily won by answering "paper" and "scissors" respectively with a moment's delay. But this was obvious.So Takaishi said: "From now onwards, try to lose on purpose." In other words, if Takaishi called "stone" and then "paper", the spectators had to answer "scissors" and "stone".

And interestingly this was the result: even answering with a second's delay it wasn't easy to lose. Even after several goes, 20-30% of the spectators still tended to make a mistake. For Takaishi, the simple explanation was that the Japanese are used to winning, and only understand the need to do things well.

He had taken part in the Honolulu marathon for 16 years, and that day he spoke of the joy of running to the best of his ability, irrespectively of the result. He also told the story of a marathon runner who had lost both his legs during the Vietnam War, and who took part in the 1988 New York marathon using only his arms. It took him five days to finish.

The world of mail art is much the same, with the same spirit applied to art. There are no winners. People meet within the network, exhibiting their artwork and exchanging opinions. [...] Sadly, however, both Takaishi's speech on the marathon and what I have said about mail art are difficult to understand. [...]