Friday, November 13, 2009

Learning How to Fail Without Being a Failure

So much for everything I wrote in my first blog entry. My convection is still immaculate in every way.

I haven't done much cooking. (Well, not any at all if I can't count canned soup, peanut butter on toast and the like.)

Did I say that I was going to eat better and get more exercise? I certainly haven't.

I suppose I should be grateful that nothing disgusting has happened on the train for me to describe (lately), but still - I haven't been able to think of anything to write at all.

So what have I to show for the time since my last entry?

See the painting I've posted of the black dog? This poor fellow (Dhalgren: my boss' long-haired Whippet) has been waiting for me to fix/finish him since I started painting him last winter (early months of 2009). He's been staring at me day after day after day, daring me to figure out what it is I need to do for him to look right...for him to be good enough to give to my boss. Day after day after day I have failed to meet the challenge. Afraid to destroy the parts of him that I liked in the process of fixing what I didn't, I have left him alone for months; avoiding eye contact with him and letting the whole thing become an overwhelming obstacle to my ability (and desire) to paint him or anything else.

Last weekend I found myself in a local art gallery and was left feeling inspired to try my hand at my own painting again. Surely I could do this, and if I threw caution to the wind and "just did it" I could end up happy with the result, right? Wrong. The Dhalgren painting ceased to exist that afternoon. I couldn't make it work and so painted over the entire image with the background colour, and now only a shadow of him remains on the canvas. A ghost of what could have been a success but wasn't. So how do I keep this from haunting me?

The painting was a failure. *I* felt like a failure, but here's what I'm trying to learn from it: Failing at something does not a failure make. I will only be a failure if I give up and let it beat me; if I run away from it; if I keep avoiding the act of failing (something I've done all my life). And when I think about it, I realize all of that actually makes me worse than a failure - it makes me a loser.

So, using the painting as an example, here is how I am am going to try to see things from now on:
Avoiding the completion of that painting = failure. This is unacceptable. I don't want to do this anymore.
Trying to complete the painting and putting it out of its misery when it wouldn't work = successful failure. This is always acceptable, and something I'm actually proud of. Accepting my failure wasn't easy to do.
Painting again because I'm able to leave the "failure" label attached to the painting instead of wearing it around my neck = success.
Accepting failure as a necessary part of life and learning from it...AND moving on from it to try (and possibly fail) again = huge success!

Wow. It hits me as I write this: I am allowed to fail over and over again and still be a huge success!!! How amazing is that?!?!?

I should blog more often. The revelations can be incredible... :)


  1. The process you have just described is precisely the process I endure with every piece I have ever painted.

    Perhaps it is a process that is universally experienced with everyone who endeavours to achieve anything worthwhile-- Not just painters.

    Keep trying. All is well.

  2. Oh Debra - first of all I think the Dalghren piece is actually quite wonderful. Sorry it no longer exists. But I've done that plenty of times myself. I've got to relay a story from Carol Marine. She said she used to do about 7 paintings a year. When one didn't turn out...well, her mood was only as good as her last painting. So it was a LONG time to feel horrible! She says the great thing about daily painting is that she only has 24 hours to feel like crap. LOL. Always new hope for the next day : ) DON'T be so hard on yourself!! You're great.

  3. You have a lovely photo of it, it's well documented, so it will live on! And you have to allow yourself freedom to experiment, you never know what might work and become part of your process or your technique.

    Happy painting.