No Such Thing as Failure
“I wish there was more instruction on how to do the basics” said a fellow student.
We’re both taking an online class on keeping a sketchbook. Some courses are prescriptive (“here’s the picture we’re all going to paint and here’s exactly how to paint it”) but this one is much more about each person finding their own way, their own style.
We’re encouraged to just play, to draw whatever we want, however we want, and to find out what interests us. I love this approach because I’m notoriously bad at following instructions, but lots of people don’t.
They want step-by-step instructions and I totally understand why. Creating art is scary. If you’re a beginner, you have no idea what you’re doing. You might know the result you want (or you might not) but you certainly don’t know how to get there. So it’s natural to want more experienced people to point the way, so that you can wind up with a nice picture to hang on your wall and a sense of accomplishment.
But here’s the thing … or rather, here are the things:
a) First, those more experienced people, the ones you look up to, the ones you think have it all figured out … they have no idea what they’re doing either! They start every picture not knowing whether it will succeed or fail. The only difference between them and you is that they’re not afraid to have a bash anyway.
b) winding up with a nice picture to hang on your wall isn’t actually the thing that will make you happy. What will make you happy is the creative process … solving problems, having happy accidents, discovering a new technique, finding out that you love pencil or hate pencil, or learning that you work best in charcoal, or setting out to create one thing but finding that you ended up creating something totally different. It’s when you lose yourself in the act of creativity that you feel most alive. (And as a nice aside, you often end up with a picture for your wall anyway, because, when you really let go, you often create your very best work).
c) There are actually no failures. Every drawing or painting teaches you something. As artist Lesley Birch often says, ‘you have to be prepared to destroy what you’ve created.’ She means that if you’re too precious about your work, you won’t take the risks necessary to push it to the next level.
I think what’s true of art is true of life … there is no good or bad, although often we perceive things that way. There is only what is. If something in our lives doesn’t turn out the way we wanted, it will either teach us how to do better next time, or end up being better than our original plans. Either way we win.
So if you’re struggling with making art (or cakes or tables or a garden) because you worry that you won’t be able to do it ‘right,’ try to approach it the way you did as a child – open, inquisitive, totally unattached to the outcome. Whatever happens, simply by the act of creating, you have enriched your life.
If any of this rings a bell with you, do let me know in the comments or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I always love hearing from you.