What does failure look like?
What does it mean to you to fail as an artist?
To many of us, failing with a new project means it doesn’t turn out completely perfect in every detail. It falls short of how we hoped and envisaged it being.
80 or 90 or 95 or even 99% wonderful isn’t enough for us.
When it comes to judging our own artwork, we have two absolute measures:
Perfection or Failure.
100% or 0%.
Everything or Nothing.
Which is a bit of a problem, because by these kind of extreme measures, no artist that has ever lived has achieved “perfection” on anything than a tiny handful of occasions.
If ever at all.
Think of your favourite artist.
Now, if you scanned their entire body of work, then interviewed them, you’ll find that they weren’t entirely happy with the vast majority of it.
In fact, they may not have been happy with absolutely any of it, however abundant their garlands of critical admiration and public adoration may have been.
What complete and utter failures…
Yet we still hold such unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
Worse still, holding these expectations means that after a handful of repeated “failings” we come close to giving up creating altogether.
All because of how we view failing, and having the belief that we can’t possibly be “real” artists if this keeps happening.
So let’s consider an alternative definition of failure.
What if the only way you could possibly fail in your work as an artist was to not even try?
What if the only failure was to not keep showing up each day and giving the best you had, to not embrace your imperfection in all its unique beauty and keep creating?
I want to invite you to take on this new definition of failure, just for a moment.
Now, if the only way to fail is by not trying to create at all, what does that make everything else?
How do we now define all those projects that don’t quite work out as we’d like them to? What do we call the works in progress and the abandoned, half formed ideas?
What do we call the work that changed direction part way through, and turned out more amazing than we could have hoped for?
The work that only could have turned out this way because we had the courage and commitment to let it grow in the ways it wanted to grow?
These things – all of these projects and experiences that make up our careers and bodies of work as artists – are what we call our evolution.
They’re what we call our learning.
If you don’t want to evolve, if you don’t want to learn, then stop creating. At least you’ll spare yourself from any kind of failure on your terms.
But I suspect you’d rather embrace the alternative definition.
I suspect you’d rather keep showing up and creating the best you can right now, as the person and the artist you are right now.
Because, honestly, that’s the only option any of us have.
Remember, the only way to fail is to not show up, to not even try.
Everything beyond that – every step, stroke, word and moment – is your creative evolution and learning.
And evolving and learning is the antithesis of failure.
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