Convert Failure into Fuel

Every artist WILL experience failure. It makes no difference how long you have worked at your craft. Yes, research has shown that 10,000 hours of practice will likely provide you with expertise in virtually any field. What that abundance of practice WILL NOT guarantee you – is the ability to avoid failure. Failure is simply inherent in any activity that involves exploration and discovery. So as an artist, how do you make peace with the idea that failure is coming? You do that by recognizing that it is a normal part of the creative process.

Over the course of my career, I have learned to be comfortable describing artworks that do not satisfy me as failures. (Yes, I use the F word and it is amazing how much discomfort that specific word can cause for many of my art peers.) Whereas I see that descriptor as merely an evaluation of a creative product at that particular moment in time. At the same moment that I am admitting that the product has failed to satisfy me, I can still appreciate the time and energy I invested into it, the skill and knowledge that I brought to it, and the seriousness of my intention.

Years ago, I decided to harness failure and convert it into fuel. So specifically – what did I change? I do not run away from my failed artworks, or in any way act as if they did not happen. Yes, I will often paint and/or collage on top of my failures. But because my efforts were sincere ones. I chose to recognize them – even honor them – by consciously leaving traces of them in any subsequent work that develops. For me it is vital that some portion of the former “failed work” remains to express its creative energy and add visual interest and history to the subsequent artwork.

Think about it…in that way my failures continue to be necessary. I depend on them. They are a critical part of my process, and I believe they have helped me produce many of my very best artworks. In fact, I am profoundly grateful for the fuel that failure has provided for me.

Achilles Heel, © 2018, Joanne Beaule Ruggles, Acrylic and India ink on paper, 40 x 26″.