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Is it Failure or Seasons of the Creative Process?

Recently there have been a number of blog posts, books and articles on the subject of failure.

One such thread began with a question by artist Lisa Call who asked Artbiz coach, Alyson Stanfield:

Something Touched Me, ©2003, 11" x 14," Acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper

Something Touched Me, ©2003, 11″ x 14,” Acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper

“Is failure in your art practice something to be embraced, managed, or forgotten?”

Alyson answered in a follow up post, saying “The only failure is not trying your best.”

Lisa responded with a blog post, Failure Sucks. What happens, she asks, when despite all your best efforts (and perhaps skillful denials), you just get derailed?

“…In my opinion, the interesting part of the failure question: what do you do in between?”

All this talk about failure got me thinking. To a certain extent there are are flops that are best treated by brushing the dirt off your pants and getting back on the proverbial horse.

But often, things just die on the vine. Where does that fit into a culture obsessed with saving time; one that chops time into smaller and smaller bits, allowing us to leap from act to act and achievement to achievement without respecting the time it takes to pass through the stages of the creative process.

We forget to think about the seasons of the earth. There is no way to immediately replace a failed crop of wheat or corn, almonds or oranges. Farmers have to clear their fields, let the soil regenerate and wait for the next planting season.

When a tree drops it’s leaves, it doesn’t immediately sprout new ones, yet the buds are already in place for when the right time comes. Spring, summer, fall and winter; birth and rebirth, growth, harvest and hibernation.

The creative process is no different. There is incubation, growth and fruition of an idea. And when it doesn’t work, sigh, the process needs to begin again. And you wait while an idea, the wave, builds. The time it takes to mature; that’s the mystery; the awe inspiring and at the same time totally frustrating part, because we don’t know how long it will take or what will result.

Lisa asked what do we do in between? Even though the idea may not have hit the shore, I think we can be skillful. We can cultivate a mindset, a state of mind that invites the ideas in.

The October, 2013, Atlantic article, Losing is the New Winning notes “Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?” asks the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, in which she argues that a willingness to court failure can be a precursor to growth.

I’m curious. How do you face failure–or do you call it that? What do you do when something you’ve worked on for some time crashes to the ground?

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Your musings about “failure” in the creative process apply so much to many of our important life endeavors. Thanks.

    October 2, 2013
  2. I was thinking the same thing–a lot of what I learn in the studio applies to the rest of life–although sometimes it takes me awhile to figure that out!

    October 3, 2013
  3. Having done lots of graphic design projects I can still remember that sick feeling of seeing my mistake in print. Throwing away failed projects or painting over them, basically taking the reminders away is the best medicine for me to move forward. Seeing old bad art gives me that sick feeling so the sentimental feeling of saving things is gone. The lesson has been learned.
    In day to day failings, I write it down and get it out of my head, and once again, try to move forward, and pray!
    Thank you for provoking thought Hannah:)

    October 3, 2013
    • I know what you mean Beth. Recently, I’ve taken to putting my experiments or things that just didn’t work out into a drawer in my paper storage bin. Sometimes, I take them out a few months later when I’m no longer attached to them–and I’ve discovered that they make a good ground to work on–leaving only intriguing traces of what is underneath.

      October 8, 2013
  4. Interesting musings Hannah, thank you for sharing them. Failure is a word with so much judgement attached to it and we are our own biggest critics, are we not! My creative failings are many and I put them down to practicing – I am still learning – I will always be learning! Perhaps this should be my practice in life as well. Of late I have tried to take my “failures” and look for my learning in them, try to acknowledge my humanness and practice self compassion. I try ……….

    October 4, 2013
    • I second your thought about judgement Janet. So true! And I agree, the essence of witnessing what we’ve created and finding it falls short is a call for self-compassion. Something that I’m just beginning to understand.

      October 8, 2013
  5. It’s interesting to consider what we consider failure to be, too, and why. I started blogging this year as an act of artistic vulnerability, but it’s really become about how redefining failure can open us to happiness.
    Coming back to nature is such a great way to earth ourselves and help us let go. Thanks for those beautiful reminders about the seasons, I go away lighter for having read this.

    October 7, 2013
  6. When I started looking at the work of Brene Brown–I really took to heart her words on vulnerability. And applying those to art making with a healthy dose of compassion makes all the difference in the world. The two together allow us the openess to redefine failure. Thank you for stopping by!

    October 8, 2013

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