From conversations with other artists, I know I’m not the only one to have periodic spells of dealing with uncertainty, ‘failure’ and ‘rejection’. I am choosing to use quotation marks here, because ‘failure’ in particular as a concept has a derogatory quality which is unhelpful. No one can achieve truly great things in life without taking risks, and the taking of risk involves accepting and positively embracing failure as a concomitant part of the process. This is particularly true of the creative arts, since failing and rejection is for many in this area just a part of normal daily life.
I have to admit it took me years to discover the importance of risking ‘failure’. My personal high low-point was a large etching which was just not working, and after two months of fighting with the plate and countless proofs, I was forced to acknowledge it was never going to be a stunning piece. Fortunately I was re-motivated by my tutor kindly describing it as glorious failure: and I realised the benefits of my learning experience learned truly far outweighed the disappointment of the outcome.
As for rejections, a wise friend told me a successful hit rate of 1 in 50 was not unusual in some commercial sectors, and recommended enthusiastically counting and celebrating every single one because each one took me closer to my ‘target’ of 49. This had an amazingly positive psychological effect on me, and I’m happy to say I’ve never had to suffer anywhere near 50 consecutive rejections.
Which brings me to an excellent review I read yesterday by Jane Faram. Failure, edited by Lisa Lefeuvre, is an anthology looking at failure as a central concern in ‘contemporary cultural production’. Farum’s review at one point touched on an enticing possibility: if instead of seeking acceptance for our work we aim for rejection, we might come up with something of worth. I like this idea. It plays to major risk-taking, and a more exciting approach to creating and making work. It is all to easy to forget that safe, likeable work is just that, and I think aiming for rejection could be a good mantra for the month.