Monday, February 28, 2011

On Failure

"Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing." - Denis Waitley

Well, I'm back after a bit of a blog break due the usual health obstacles and the intermittant days of chaos as I try to make the most of the times when I am clear-headed and pain free.  The periodic migraines (occuring about every two to three days and each lasting another two to three days - if I'm lucky) make it hard to build any sort of momentum on a project but I definitely keep busy when the headaches relent.

"The minute you start thinking about what you're going to do if you lose, you have lost." - George P. Shultz

Last Friday, I spent the day cleaning the house from top to bottom after a Wednesday and Thursday spent entirely in bed.  With the house sparkling and the laundry done, I felt that I could devote my Saturday and Sunday to art.  I spent hours painting, layering and sanding back collage, acrylics and gesso on canvas, trying to develop a background technique that I could use en masse for my October show.  I told myself that I was only experimenting, playing with no expectation or internal pressure to create something worth displaying or selling.  Anyway, those were the guidelines I thought I had established.  However, last night, when it came time to create an actual image on top of my background, I absolutely hated the results and in a fit of frustration and fatalism, I obilterated two days' worth of work with a thick coat of gesso.

"I was shipwrecked before I got aboard." - Seneca

I made an important self-discovery: no matter how well I prepared my psyche in advance, I could not let go enough to create something awful.  The inner critic came through loud and clear and shame on me!  I listened.

"It is not failure itself that holds you back; it is the fear of failure that paralyses you." - Brian Tracy

As the gesso dried, I tried to reestablish some control over my thought process.  I knew that I had probably pushed too hard, moved too fast.  When I come out of my migraine fog, I am desperate to make up for lost time.  With white-hot focus, I concentrate on "doing," often entirely forgetting about the critical importance of just "being."  (This is especially true for people with chronic illnesses.)  Although I had told myself that I was committed to the process, my knee-jerk reaction to a less-than-perfect product revealed that deep down, I hadn't really been paying attention to the process at all. 

"It is through failure that we learn our skills, as well as who we are and how much more we are capable of." - Paul Cade

So I ruminated and I sanded.  What you see in this posting is that "failed" canvas as it stands.  I sort of like it.  Well, truth be told, I like it better than what I had going before The Gesso Incident.  And just as I type that, I feel the familiar flutter in my brain of "now if I can just not mess it up again."  Sigh.  Sometimes the learning curve is steep.  I'll work some more on this piece today, taking it a bit slower.  And I've decided that I'll start some new practice pieces, this time on canvas board.  Maybe that substrate will feel less precious than the stretched canvas.  As a storm rages outside, I'll try to settle into the studio and embrace a little failure.

"Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett


Terri Kahrs said...

"We" are our own worst critics, Michelle! Thank goodness for gesso!!! I'm looking forward to watching these canvases evolve. Hugs, Terri xoxo

JessiVille said...

Michelle, I actually love your canvas as it is. The texture and colors are very nice. I know things will come together. I too suffer with cronic pain and understand the rush to get things done, knowing our pain-free window might be small. So I am always behind with everything. I stuggle with accepting that fact but I try to be gentle with myself and not compromise my art anymore. Sometimes I'm sucessful, sometimes not so much - LOL!

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I understand the stress you are under, and how easy it is to put yourself under even more stress, by trying to achieve as much as possible in that limited time frame...but I also know that like you I couldn't leave it at that stage of hating it, I would have to change it too...maybe see it more as adding depth to the artwork rather than wasted time...Hugs Janet in Australia.

milkcan said...

Love this post! Go you!

ladybug said...

Thank you for this post. I tried to push myself through a couple of projects that had been on my mind a while ago...the thing I noticed immediate is that I got artist did not like being forced into creating...the trick is for me to find the balance. Make myself show up to the work, but don't expect the work to come in the form I expect.

It's a difficult goal, but one to cherish certainly. and it reminds me of the mantra that my theater company uses especially when teaching workshops: Dare to Suck.
If you don't take big risks, nothing interesting will ever happen. So dare to suck! Challenge yourself to make the biggest mess ever and in the freedom of letting go we might just a big pile of compost...but then again, compost helps the flowers of new ideas grown.

Play on!

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