But it's happened so often over the years that I've developed ways to move them past that stage. Every painting I make is filled with tipping points that could see the work descend into outright failure (the throw it in the bin sort) or move into a new, exciting and previously undiscovered place. But what makes the difference between a painting that fails and one that ends up being successful? For me it's about having taken that painting on a journey of risk, experimentation, and discovery which naturally encompasses failures at various times. I think as artists we sometimes feel that every time we show up in the studio we should be able to make measurable and obvious progress towards a fantastic and finished artwork, without a backward step. The reality is that so much studio time is spent in that experimental phase, which is by it's very nature is full of opportunities to fail. If we weren't prepared to accept that risk of failure we wouldn't try anything new, we'd just exist in a safe zone where we know we can create a finished painting if we just follow a formula. But the wonderful thing about failure is that it opens the door to new learning opportunities and it helps build creative resilience if we can take a moment to reflect and ask, why? Why does that seem to me like a failure? Why does my colour choice not work? Why did my planned process not work out the way I thought it would? Why does that line look awkward? Why does the balance look off? Why is my eye drawn to this area when I don't want it to be? Why is this not working for me? And then, perhaps more importantly it's essential to ask: What do I want to do about it and how can I make a change to fix it? I'll let you in on a secret. Last week I spent all day - yes 8 hours, moving bits of collage paper around on one of my current paintings. And by the end of the day I still hadn't stuck a single piece down! To a non-artist this might seem like a dreadful waste of time. But do you know what? By the end of the day new lines of inquiry had surfaced and I felt like I had taken this painting on an important and necessary journey. If I can progress and refine my ideas by testing processes or concepts that fail here and there, then that's what success looks like for me. No experience is ever wasted and by looking at failure not as an end point but as an open door to a new learning opportunity, we can move past the point of frustration when things don't go the way we have envisaged and choose any number of available pathways to move forward and our work will be all the richer for it.
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