The creation of art is the creation of failure. These are not my words, I borrowed them from a podcast by Brooks Jensen at LensWork, with my apologies to the same for appropriating them for my blog. Still, the sentiment behind these words has a certain universal applicability to it, and it is that sentiment that I would like to discuss a little bit here. What person who has engaged in an artistic endeavor for a sustained period of time has not felt the sting of disappointment when the work just isn’t flowing well?
In the same podcast, Brooks related a story he himself had taken from the book of another on the topic of art (I forget the name of that book – if anyone can tell me, I’ll certainly add it here). Briefly, a class of pottery students was divided into two, with one half being instructed over the course of the class to be concerned solely with producing one, perfect pot, and the other half being instructed over the course of the class to strive for making quality pots, but to be more concerned with producing simply many of them. Who produced the better pot?
Perhaps counter-intuitively, it was the group that was focused on making many pots. The practice of making pots over and over – of attempting, failing, learning, and trying again – ultimately pushed the second group up a learning curve that the first group didn’t have a chance to climb, because the first group simply was making fewer pots. Stated differently, the process-focused group ultimately produced better work than the product-focused group.
There’s a lesson here. The process is more important than the product. If an artist is too focused on product, then the artistic pursuit is likely to be a slow, unproductive, and disappointing one, because after all, who among us always produces perfect work? On the other hand, if an artist focuses on the process, then the work is likely to be engaging, satisfying, and ultimately better. Moreover, a process-focused artist understands and is less deterred by the creation of failure, because failure is part of the process of making art.
The image in this post, “Black Trees Series 2, No. 1,” is the product of several failures. Prior to creating this image, I had been working on several other images, trying approaches and techniques that ultimately were dead-ends. While I’m certainly as susceptible to frustration and disappointment as anyone else, I honestly can say that I enjoy the process of photography and making images, and so I was able to keep working through my creative block by staying focused on the process, even though the product that I was producing in this period wasn’t very good. The image here likely wouldn’t be what it is without having had the benefit of my many failed attempts at producing other images along the way.
And to anyone who may be struggling through a rough spell, I say remember to enjoy the process and don’t be too concerned about any individual product. Art is supposed to be fun, and after all, we’re all only as good as the sum of our failures.