The Relationship Between Creativity, Art & Failure

Class Project Piece words by Frank Capra

During my week of teaching at the John C. Campbell School, we studied design and layout. As a class we worked together on a project, each student selecting papers and layout options. The top photo shows the final draft. The lower left photo shows the papers gathered by the group, the lower right shows the mat once it was completed.

The immortal words of Frank Capra remind me that there is an implied need to be able to fail in order to create. If we work too hard to try and get things perfect we are robbing ourselves of the lessons learned through failure. Everyone fails. Anyone who has ever tried to create anything has had set backs, disasters, creative blocks, and massive moments of learning simply by being willing to fail. I tell my students all the time, it is only paper and ink, so stop worrying about trying to frame everything you create. The work may not end up in the Louvre Museum yet if your abilities have advanced because of the things you have learned then the piece was a success.

As everyone makes mistakes, taking part in that creative process is what moves our work forward. Most artists have pieces and piles of work they leave behind as they progress either not knowing how to take it forward or not wanting to have anyone else see it. The real gift is in knowing which ones to keep…as Frank Capra reminds us.

I have one drawer in my studio of “work in progress”. The pieces I have used to test techniques or layouts or styles are then put in the drawer possibly to be completed at a later date. Some do not see the light of day for years, others have never left the drawer, and others still sit on top waiting for my courage, my skills, or both to take them to the next level. Over the years wisdom and a little bit of vanity have helped me know which mistakes to keep and which ones to let go. Simply giving myself the freedom and time to make that choice has greatly changed by art career over the years.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to make mistakes, be creative, and fail? Maybe today is a good day for you to open that door back up and walk through it knowing that true art is knowing which mistakes to keep.

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