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The Art of Failure

by Keith Bond on 4/18/2011 11:00:03 AM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.


It’s often said that those who fail the most also succeed the most.  Conversely, those who avoid failure, don’t achieve much.  What they really do is fail to try.  They fail to start.  Thus they fail to ever really succeed.  Seth Godin writes a lot about this principle.


Don’t let this happen with your art.  Do you fear failure and thus don’t try those things you want to try – be it subject, technique, medium, etc.?  Do you never get around to that big project you have been daydreaming of for years because you might not do it just right?  Or maybe it’s the marketing / business side of art.  Are you afraid to blog?  Do you fear writing or talking about your work?  Perhaps you can’t get yourself to ask for the sale. 


I have come to learn that failure can be a good thing.


Why failure is good for you


1.    It means you are actually trying new things.  You are doing something.  You’re not just sitting back waiting for something to push you off that log. 

2.    It gets you out of a rut.

3.    You will learn from your failures.

4.    You will have experience to build upon.

5.    The more stuff you do – even though you will fail at some of it - the more you will succeed.


I wonder if the most accomplished, most successful artists have also failed the most.  They aren’t afraid to push their limits, try new things, step out of their comfort zones.  Most importantly, though, they are doing something.  They work and work and do and do.  Some works are failures, some are successes. 


I know some artists who avoid creating their work because of fear.  They busy themselves with other tasks, because the ideas they are excited about intimidate them.  I’ve been there, too.  If you avoid starting that next painting or sculpture because you know it won’t turn out quite how you want it to, then you will never reach the level where you can do it.  Inaction does not improve your abilities.  Practicing in your mind cannot replace practicing with your hands. 


You must create if you want to improve.  You will have failures, but they are necessary stepping stones.  With time and practice you will realize all you have learned from those failures.  And you will see them as blessings.


Best Wishes,

Keith Bond



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Related Posts:

They Can Sense Fear

Give Yourself Permission to Fail

The Value of Taking Risks

Improve Your Artwork With A Double Dog Dare

A Lesson From Sir James Dyson

Topics: FineArtViews | inspiration | Keith Bond 

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mimi torchia boothby watercolors
It is along these lines of advice that made me paint a series of self-portraits. If it didn't look right, no one was going to be disappointed except me. There were some failures, and they carry disappointment, because each one had elements that were unique that I liked. Like children with serious birth defects that are still lovable children!
thanks for the common sense advice.

Sandy Askey-Adams, PSA
Hello Keith....

Will not write much right now, but this is a very good topic. SO much could be said on this topic about fear of failure and how it imposes its ugliness upon us and stops us from doing more of what we are capable of doing. Heck, it can even cause unnecessary anxiety.
Fear has even stood in the way of my starting a Blog which I finally started with great hesitation.

Again, a great reminder about fear and art....or as the book that I love is called...."Art and Fear."
One of the books that every artist should have in their artbook library.

Thank you Keith.

Robin Kent
We think alike!
I posted a similar concept on my blog yesterday. The same idea but different. I've heard there are little concepts floating
around in the universe waiting for the right people to harvest them. Please come see my version also.

Michael Cardosa
HA! Keith!

I've failed at so many things I'm starting to believe that's what my middle initial really stands for!! (ok, so just kidding, I'm just getting on in years and I kind of forget what it stands for... but I digress...)

You are absolutely right, if you don't try, you'll never know what you can do. There have been any number of things that I've needed to paint and dreaded and when I actually started... hey, no problem. At least there was not disaster. I have to admit that my only fear at applies to failure is not that I'll fail, it's just that I hate the idea of wasting my time. Of course I try to think of it as learning something new and then, it's never a waste of time.

Great posting again Keith, thanks!



Esther J. Williams
This is so true. I can put up a road block sometimes and talk myself out of a big project. Then I remember, take one step, even if it is a baby step. Discipline is the key that opens doors to the creative realm.
As I look over my shoulder to the other side of my home studio, I can see a stack of failures or cast offs as I like to call them. I look at them once in awhile, they are the ones I haven`t destroyed. Something about them, the struggle, the memory of place, the lessons learned. I say, next time I will go there and get it right. I`ve grown fond of those little failures.
Thanks Keith for this short and sweet article.

Donald Fox
Failure is frequently followed by starting over. Whenever failure does occur, it's easy to feel defeated and depressed, but it's also time for starting again. I know how to start something. If I fail at something else, I can always succeed at starting over. Mindset is important in every endeavor.

Bettye Rivers
Your article today is such a needed one for me. I am reminded of the successful people I've known in my life. I recall how amuzed I have always been that none of them seemed to have hurt feelings or appeared the least bit embarrased by rejection or failure of any kind. They don't seem to take it personally. Instead it just seem to spur them on...more determined than discouraged. This probably being what I admire mostly in a successful person, more so than the accomplishment itself. Great article!

Diane Overmyer
Thanks for these simple, yet vital truths! It is good to use failure as a driving force to work harder and step back and really think about what we are doing or where we heading, as long as we don't let it hinder us or bog us down emotionally speaking. I recently hear about an artist who has only been painting for a little over 2 years. He is discontent because his work has not received an award yet. I remember that feeling after my very first art exhibit. When my seemingly perfect painting didn't receive any type of an award I took a good hard look at it and compared it with the winning pieces. Even though I was disappointed to not have won, I became a better artist because of it. Now that I have grown as an artist, I realize many times it is simply a matter of the judge's personal taste, as to who receives awards and who does not. I've had some of (what I consider) my best work rejected from a major competition on more than one occasion, yet at other times I've won Best of Show with pieces I never dreamed would receive a top award. I also have learned to honestly rejoice in other artist's success!

Jana Parkes
Great article, Keith!
And I enjoyed everyone else's comments!
Recently, I had a painting that I was working on, in acrylic, and I just kept wiping away what I had painted because it wasn't right. Then I got to a place where I could feel what was right from my previous tries and I finished it in one swoop. The second person I showed it to bought it!
Like you said, about "failures" being stepping stones.
blessings to all!, Jana

Peggy Martinez
Keith thanks for the short and to the point article! I try to keep up with the daily posting, but honestly some are so lengthy I save them for when I have "time" and rarely get back to them.

I've been painting for years in watercolor and a few months ago I decided to improve my skills and learn more about acrylics. I set myself a goal of painting 50 5x7 panels in acrylics in 4 weeks with no sketches in mind. I had a Holiday Art sale coming up and I wanted to try something different. I started with 2 of the same kind, then another 2 of a different version of the 1st, then experimented with metallics and different layers and applications. All in all I completed 40 panels in 16 different series, were they all great, perhaps not, some were surprising . But I learned alot about acrylics and sold a few pieces immediately. Today I'm finishing the last of a one of those series in larger sizes for a new cafe, have another commission waiting and 5 more for a dance studio. It's like the definition of insanity; "Keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result". Back to painting!

George De Chiara
Peggy, I've heard this part of your post a million time, "Keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result", but never thought of it in terms of painting. It really sums up well the need to continue to push your art into new directions so you can continue to improve and grow.

Sharon Weaver
I recently attended a talk and slide show with artist Richard Schmid. It was wonderful and he talked about a new technique he is trying which he hasn't perfected yet, but wanted to show us the results. It just goes to show, no matter the age nor how established the artist, we can always learn and experiment with new styles, methods and ideas.

Donna Robillard
Keith, you have inspired me to do a couple of things that I haven't done before. Thanks.

Marian Fortunati
HA!! GREAT post Keith... and just SO true.

I remember hearing from wonderful artist, Karl Dempwolf, something to the effect that one of the good things that happened as he became more experienced and accomplished as a painter was that the PERCENT of failure got smaller....
Notice that it wasn't that he didn't still have failures... but his percentage rate was more in his favor.
Of course if we don't do anything we'll have no failures... AND no successes at all. 100 percent failure.
Once again...
"He who makes no mistakes... makes nothing."

Carol Schmauder
Great article, Keith. Recently I put off starting a painting for days because I was a little intimidated. When I finished it I was excited about the finished painting. I still have no idea why I didn't want to start the painting.

Meltemi aka Phil Kendall
Meltemi is an artist, he has the best job in the world. I'm glad I made that decision too. And I'm a first wave baby-boomer sort of 65 on the outside still 16 on the inside.

Ӣ Some Tips
Ӣ Work regularly at your art. Be disciplined and work regular hours at it . Create good working habits without discipline you have no freedom. Get into your studio. Make the delivery.

Ӣ Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but simply move on and create something else. Do not stop altogether. Decide to go for it

Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it. Fall in love with process of art.

Ӣ Don't hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it was filed away it will still be just as bad if it ever it comes out again. Sort of release those you don't love and Define success for yourself.

Ӣ Take no notice of anyone you don't respect. Also; take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. Always identify your own strategies.

Ӣ Be ambitious for your artworks and not necessarily the financial rewards.

Ӣ Trust your creativity and commit to your vision.

Enjoy your work. Love what you do.

Joanne Benson
Good article and certainly a wise one. Fear of failure is very real and something that must be dealt with head on! When I first started painting I was afraid of wasting paint and paper. Thank goodness I'm long over that phase. Experimenting and trying new things can be exhililarating. I have the same pile of rejects that most artists accumulate. Some may be saved eventually and some never will but they all have been part of the learning process. As someone said in one of the posts, the more you paint and learn, the less failures you will have in the long run. I believe that to be true. So I'm going to play the percentages and keep painting!

Douglas H Teller
Keith Bond's message on failure was very good but I would like to carry it one step forward. I have taught watercolor for many years and have come to the conclusion that "fear" itself is one of the greatest handicaps that painters have, both novice and advanced. Being fearful of laying in a large wash, of using too much or too little pigment, of ruining a piece of paper,and all sorts of reasons that keep us from realizing the full potential of the medium or of our own abilities. The conquering of these all too real fears does not happen overnight, but realizing that they exist is a beginning and recognizing that it is "only a piece if paper" is essential. I know this sounds harsh, but it is a fact. It is a good topic Thank you Keith Bond for bringing it up!

Tim Holton
This is a topic of deep significance in art history going back to the ancient Greek myth of Hephaestus, the crippled, "flawed god" of the arts. Jan Van Eyck carved on the frame of his portrait (probably self-portrait) "Man with a Red Turban" the motto "Als Ick Kan," which means "As I Can" or As Best I Can" - an acknowledgement of the individual artist's innate imperfection. As the nineteenth century increasingly upheld the ideal of great art as the achievement of perfection in the individual genius, John Ruskin (especially in "The Nature of Gothic") and William Morris among others fought mightily to uphold Van Eyck's motto and understanding - his framing (expressed literally) of the whole matter of art and its place in relation to life. Hence Morris took Van Eyck's motto as his own, as did Gustav Stickley here in the U.S.

Anyone interested in learning more can go to an essay I recently posted on my blog : .

Brian Sherwin
Writers, specifically bloggers, can learn from this post as well. If you don't post your writing people will not read it. Some writers get nervous about posting controversial opinions-- you don't know how people will react until the writing is there for people to see and read.


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