RISK and FAILURE in ARTMAKING
Oct 07, 2022
I've been thinking a lot about failure lately, and how to hold it with grace. How to acknowledge it without letting it crush me and stop me in my tracks. (Given the number of references I’ve seen online about failure recently, I may be tapping into something). I can give you a long list of things lately that I feel like I’ve failed at, but I don’t think I need to.
Because I’m ok with having failed.
I don’t need reassurance that I didn’t fail (I did) and I feel good about moving forward. I’ve also had a lot of successes recently, too. And I’m finally at a point in my life where I know and trust myself enough (ok, MOST days!) to know that I can get through the inevitable failures and create MORE successes.
In artmaking, failure generally means not living up to your own expectations – or someone else’s. It doesn’t look the way you meant it to, or the colors went to mud, or something like that.
I used to have an expectation that everything I made needed to be "good" based on some arbitrary definition of "good." It doesn’t help that when we look at “good art” we are looking at 15-20 paintings created by an artist during their lifetime. Which is maybe 1% of the art they created during their lifetime. Not every piece of art I create is part of my personal 1%.
Failing with grace means acknowledging that what I made didn’t live up to expectations - but that I still believe in my capacity to move forward. That might mean adjusting expectations, renegotiating agreements, building new skills, asking for help, or trying a new approach. So often in artmaking, failure holds seeds of potential!
Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal.”
Winston Churchill is most often remembered as a politician, but he was also a painter. He started painting at 40, and completed over 500 paintings over the next 48 years. Churchill was actually in charge of a lot of life-or-death decisions – but the decisions he made while painting weren’t among them.
Making one brilliant thing doesn’t mean everything from that moment forward will be brilliant. And making a bad painting won’t kill you (thought it can certainly feel like it).
I’m going to say it again because it is one of the most wonderful things about artmaking – MISTAKES IN ART AREN’T FATAL. You can take risks, make messes, fail utterly to create the thing you wanted to create, and the consequences? You’ve used some paint, you’ve used some time, and hopefully, you’ve learned a little something.
Making art is actually one of the safest risks you can take. And in fact, to be an artist means taking that risk over and over again. It means making a bunch of crappy work because that’s how you learn. Making mistakes is how you move to the next success.