Creative Failure

One of our cornerstone principles in making art (and teaching it) is that we learn from failure – more than from success. Success, however one may define it, often leads to more of the same, whereas a healthy disregard for it and a willingness to push past a goal accomplished can open up new opportunities for creative development and expansion. It is the yin and yang of art. This is the realm of the inveterate explorer, which we have found most professional artists to be. It takes time, discipline and above all, courage, to learn to work this way. After all, it isn't like our culture encourages us to be explorers in art – we must find our own way. We are always fascinated to hear how and when artists make the decision to be explorers and "damn the consequences." Our regular Voices of Experience interviews for members of The Artist's Road probe the many pathways artists have taken to make that crucial choice. In every case, they are willing to embrace the unknown and to walk freely, arm in arm, with their new friends, failure and success.

Blue Rider by Wassily Kandinsky, 1903.
Blue Rider by Wassily Kandinsky, 1903.

It is unfortunate that the word "failure" has only negative connotations attached to it. It is an absolutely necessary part of innovation and creativity, and those who run technological businesses – really big ones like Google, understand the need to embrace the process by doing what they call "failing up." In other words, they measure their developmental progress by expecting it and exploiting what they learn when they don't get the results they hoped for. Sound familiar? It should. Business is actively analyzing the creative processes of artists and adapting our methods to make their businesses more innovative and competitive. 

In the October 2014 issue of Scientific American, "How to Manage a Creative Organization" by Gareth Cook discusses how Harvard Business School's Linda A. Hill and her colleagues have identified three abilities that innovative organizations share, which they call "Creative Abrasion, Creative Agility and Creative Resolution". In short, Abrasion is the ability to be open minded to a diversity of ideas, thoughts, conflicts and solutions and hash through them productively. Agility is the ability to "refine ideas through quick pursuit, reflection and adjustment" – in other words, to experiment. And according to Ms. Hill, "Experiments . . . are about learning – and a negative outcome can provide important insights." Resolution is the ability to integrate diverse, sometimes opposable ideas, and combine or reconfigure them to create a new solution.

Every successful professional artist we know works this way, whether it is part of a plan or not. "Blind alleys" are just part of the turf we run. Innovators, as Ms Hill asserts, " . . . do not compromise or take the path of least resistance."  Long may you run.

Become a member of The Artist's Road for more interesting articles and interviews with professional artists. Members enjoy a discount in The Artist's Road Store where you'll find unique products for the traveling artist.

–John and Ann


Related Posts:


The Artist's Life Blog
John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.