Dealing with Art Failure

Today we're tackling a subject every artist is familiar with, albeit one that nobody enjoys, and that's art failure. This feeling creeps up when a painting doesn't go as planned or a technique goes awry. It can really crush your spirits when this happens. But don't worry, we're not going to wallow in the misery of a failed painting. Instead, I'm providing concrete steps to overcome the unpleasantness that comes with failed art.


Step Away

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I don't know about you, but when my painting doesn't turn out how I thought it would, it can seriously disrupt my day. And it's all too easy for me to get caught up in a negativity spiral of hating on my work and sometimes even my self. That's when I know to step away from my work. I take the piece off the easel and put it away so I can't look at it and go do something else. I tend to take walks when I need to figure out a problem, but it can be whatever you find relaxing. Just make sure you give yourself some space from your work for at least a day.


This step is crucial, as it lets your eyes and mind relax. That way, when you do come back to your work, you'll be seeing it through fresh eyes. It also helps calm any frustration that might have come up while creating. And if there's one thing I know, it's that trying to fix something when I'm frustrated never ever works. Ever. I need that space to calm down and collect my thoughts so I don't wind up in a bigger panic. Trust me on this and take time away from your work. You'll thank me for it later.


Separate Yourself

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Once you're feeling less emotional about what happened, take a minute to separate yourself from that failed painting. Remember that a failed piece isn't the end of the world. If it helps, you can say something along the lines of, "I know this piece does not reflect me as a person or an artist. It just didn't work out, and that's okay. This is just a painting. I'll make another one." I know, it seems silly, but you'd be surprised how much this helps!


Separating yourself from something that didn't go well validates your worth outside of your work. As an artist, I know that can be incredibly difficult. But the more we practice and get in the habit of lifting ourselves up and detaching from our art, the easier it becomes. And the less impact a failed piece has on our self-esteem over time.


Assess Your Work

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After you've had some space from your piece, it's time to take a fresh look and assess what went wrong. I know it's not exactly glamorous or heart-warming, but this helps us grow as artists. If you don't take the time to evaluate your work, you'll continue to make the same mistakes and eventually stagnate. That's why regular assessments are crucial to artistic growth - even more so when something goes wrong.


When I'm assessing my work, I like to list out what I like about the piece in addition to what I don't. This helps me identify the areas that were successful despite the piece not working as a whole. I sometimes use these lists to brainstorm my next painting. As for the failed areas, I write out exactly why I don't like it whether it be shape, rhythm, color, and so on. Whatever it is, I make sure I get as specific as possible to figure out where exactly the piece went wrong. This helps me avoid the same mistake later on, and, as a result, lets me use my failures as opportunities to grow.


Try Again

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The last step, and perhaps the most important, is to try again! When I was learning to drive, I somehow drove my stepdad's car into a ditch. Thankfully it was on a road with no other vehicles and there was no damage to the car or anyone in it. I just didn't feel comfortable turning and made a mistake overcorrecting. I immediately asked my stepdad to take over and let me continue as a passenger. He refused and told me that if I didn't keep driving now, I'd never want to again. And I believe he was right.


If we avoid something out of fear of messing up again, we'll never get better at it. The fear will continue to grow and eventually you won't want to make work at all. So, even though it might be scary, I highly encourage you to get back to your work as soon as you feel comfortable. You might not knock it out of the park right away, but that's okay. Art isn't linear. We're constantly growing and learning. As such, so are our expectations of ourselves. Don't let one mistake keep you from something you love. Instead, learn to accept those failures and you'll be stronger for it.

 

I take these steps every time I make a piece I don't like, and it's incredibly useful in overcoming my art fails. It's still disappointing when it happens, but I don't take it to heart anymore. Instead, I'm able to look at my work objectively and figure out what happened. This has helped me grow more than I ever imagined, and I hope it helps you, too!


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