creative wisdom: fear of failure

April 3, 2016

There is no failure. Only feedback.
Robert G. Allen


I’d like to share part of an article I read recently called “Forgetting those things which are Behind” by Kenneth L. Higbee.

A newspaper editor, speaking to a college graduating class, asked, “How many of you have ever sawed wood? Let’s see your hands.”

Many hands went up.

Then he asked, “How many of you have ever sawed sawdust?”

No hands went up.

“Of course, you can’t saw sawdust!” he exclaimed. “It’s already sawed! And it’s the same with the past. When you start worrying about things that are over and done with, you’re merely trying to saw sawdust.”

Too many people make themselves miserable by dwelling needlessly on their past failures and mistakes. They lie awake at night agonizing over the mistakes they have made and what they should have done. Almost everyone occasionally does thoughtless, impulsive things that bring unpleasant consequences. Almost everyone occasionally misses golden opportunities through apathy or oversight. Almost everyone may be occasionally selfish or unkind.

We cannot help feeling despair over such occasions, but we should not feel as if we ought to be exiled from the human race simply because of them. In fact, mistakes are not only an acceptable part of life, but they may even be beneficial. The intelligent use of our mistakes helps us learn and grow; past failures may be guideposts to future successes. But our failures and mistakes can be constructive only if we analyze them, gain what profit we can from them, and then forget them.

A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he gives up.

This story can be applied to so many things in our lives, but especially to our art making. So many of the students I teach are held back by their fear of making a mistake. They look back on the work they have made and see only the errors. They equate their worth as an artist with those mistakes.

All artists make mistakes. Good artists accept mistakes as part of the process, learn from them and continue to progress. Over the next several months I’d like to talk about embracing failure as a vital part of every artist’s process. 

Think about your attitude towards failure.
What about the possibility of making mistakes holds you back?

I’d love to hear your comments and ideas and we can discuss them in upcoming posts.

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  • Reply
    Suzzanne Woods
    April 10, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Lyric, I found your blog (and you) via a search for custom made thermofax screens. Am delighted to meet you. I love painting on fabric with brush and paint, mostly using fabric paint & acrylics. Feel ready to add another element to the painting and will order some thermofaxes from you soon. Regarding failure-oh I know it well. Am looking at some fabrics painted yesterday and see some “happy mistakes” and mistakes where I went too far! Two approaches that keep me going are 1. Asking what will I do differently next time-realizing that this “mistake” has gotten me to a new jumping off place. 2. Knowing that nothing is wasted and that I will use this piece someday some where. Another thing is that I use “recycled” fabric (mostly sheeting) which frees me from fear of wasting, etc.. In addition I have all kinds of brushes – cheap & special ones which are all precious to me. Some handmade ones (by Kent Mclauglin) always make beautiful/interesting marks.
    Enough for now. Thank you for your beautiful work and for this blog. Suzzanne

  • Reply
    April 7, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Yes, yes, yes!

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