I was taught at school that everything had to be right. I was encouraged to conform so that when I grew up I would make a good employee. Education was stifling. I was urged to aim for perfection; however, I was a long way away from achieving that. Sketching and doodling were discouraged, learning from failure was hindered. As a consequence, I had no idea how to rebound from a failed painting.
When I started to learn to paint I use to stop, look and make a judgment about my progress. I worried I was wasting my time and making a blunder. I hated being wrong. It is a struggle to complete a piece of work and I didn’t realise that I needed to keep working until the artwork was ‘finished’. If I stepped back too early l was not happy with what l had achieved. It took me a while to realise that l needed to conclude the artwork, then reflect, review and try to acknowledge what didn’t work.
Rebound from a failed painting – related post
Then for years when l made a failed painting, it was like hitting a brick wall. It would take me weeks to recover, to stop procrastinating and worrying. I would ask myself where did I go wrong? What lessons can l learn for next time? I’m not sure when l finally realised that a failed painting is a near win. That each time l practised the experience allowed me to grow.
By learning from my near wins l slowly learnt that I could avoid the same mistakes. The flourishing painter, Alex Katz said it took a thousand paintings to achieve his ‘Big Style’. Michael Jordan, the highly successful basketball player, missed nine thousand shots in his career. Thomas Edison, the prosperous inventor, said after inventing the light bulb, ‘I have not failed, I have just found ten thousand ways that didn’t work.’
Rebound from a failed painting – external link
9 Times History's Greatest Artists Made Bad Artworks - Artsy If at first you don't succeed, celebrate - Tate website
The painting process needs to be inquisitive, open and free. Before I start a painting l no longer think that what I intended will happen. I know if it fails that something else will happen instead. A painting with difficulties and flaws leaves the door open to the next work and the next work after that. It gets me closer to where I wanted to go without realising where ‘where’ is.
If the opposite was true and I had an idea first. When I made it, it would be lacking in integrity, authenticity and a soul. It would be stillborn. It would be dead. Like I feel about the painting ‘Law of the Jungle’ above.
I have slowly realised a failed painting has no negative impact on my long term career unless I let it. Thomas Edison stated that “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time.” Therefore l focus on the skills that persist past the painting, and look for the best option to create more choices. There is no conceptual end, just a deeper rabbit hole.