I spend a lot of time when I am teaching, mentoring students through the process of what we like to call ‘failure’. I can’t be sure why no one teaches us how to handle this in school. I wish they had. It would have stopped everyone being a paranoid teenager. Managing failure, (and success) is a life long process. No one escapes it, but we are left to our own devices to work out what it means. Wouldn’t it be a relief if we could process each of these outcomes into a more positive mindset? One that would help us proceed on future projects with a ‘cup half full’ mentality?
Sometimes I forget to listen to myself. I’ll admit I am great at working others through the value of ‘failure’. Actually, I’d like to rephrase it and call it ‘non acceptance’. I don’t ever consider that any of my students fail, unless they stop giving a damn. But they never do, they all have grit and work really hard. So in my mind they all succeed. The problem is when we enter into art comps, awards and the like, selection is determined by personal preference, fashion and what’s cool at the moment.
And I am no different to anyone else. After last weeks’ rejection of two art shows (a $100 throw away) I was feeling pretty down. And I gripe on that I wouldn’t mind the rejection so much, if it just didn’t have to cost me so many $$$! I’d like to acknowledge though, that I am sure that everyone who was accepted to these shows, or not, put in just as much work. Being an artist is work. There are so many artist’s who I admire that were never accepted in their lifetime. It breaks my heart that all they were looking for was a little acceptance, and, that how much that acceptance would have changed their life. Sometimes I just wish I could wake them up and let them know… you were right, you were on the right track, the rest of us just didn’t get it at the time.
Artist’s such as Van Gogh, and Australian painters such as Clarice Beckett and Horace Trenerry come to mind. What I admire most about these artists is that they just kept on making things, despite the lack of acceptance for their visions. Now we queue for hours to get a glimpse of their unique insights.
One of the current players to voice the persistence of determination is Elizabeth Gilbert in her latest book ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear’. Not a fan of letting the universe speak to me, but she does scribe so eloquently, many of the conundrums of creativity.
‘Failure has a function’ It asks you whether you really want to go on making things.”
The thing is, I do. I will always want to make things. What we forget to realise about all the people we admire is that they were never the ‘norm’. Nothing really happened by accident. They all had to fight and struggle for their ‘not normal’ vision of the world. Fitting in was never on the agenda.
Your audience for your creativity is only for a niche market. Not everyone will get you, or what you are striving to create. Truth is…what we like, who we like, will always be a niche market. It has to be. We are all striving to carve our unique mark on the world, yet we let the voice of the masses infect our direction. We admire originality but we want acceptance by the masses. We just can’t have both if we want to continue to be creative. We will be rejected. As a lovely assistant commented when I picked up another rejected artwork from a past show… “it’s a lovely piece. But don’t worry, hardly anyone got accepted.”
The trick is to never give up or let others steal your passion or enthusiasm. Just rack up your rejections and soldier on. Let your rejections make you stronger and more determined to create and make more! Here’s a couple of snippets from some truly inspirational humans who used their failures to focus:
WINSTON CHURCHILL – UK PRIME MINISTER
Churchill failed sixth grade and was defeated in every election for public office until he became Prime Minister of England at the age of 62. When he met with his Cabinet on May 13, 1940, as England was about to enter the war against Germany, he told them that, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Churchill’s determination to face his earlier failures head on which gave him the resolve to lead his nation through years of warfare. He later wrote these now famous words, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never, never, never, never give up.”
JK ROWLING – AUTHOR OF HARRY POTTER
Before Harry Potter fame, JK Rowling was a divorced mother living on welfare. She refers to herself as “the biggest failure I knew”, but credits much of her success to her failure. She explained in a Harvard commencement speech, “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
So my thought for the week is this… go create and love what you create, and don’t let anyone stop you from enjoying it!
“Let people have their opinions. More than that–let people love their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
The book to stop all the excuses we make to prevent us attempting to fulfil our creative dreams. And by creativity, she means anything from writing a poem to growing a garden- there is nothing exclusive or elitist about her definition of self-expression and where imagination can lead you.