In 2020 I created over 500 cyanotypes. Only about 75 of them made it into collections. Does this mean that the other 425 pieces were failures? Yes. Does that mean they are worthless? Not by a long shot. Every single one of those four hundred failures holds incredible value. Because every failure had something to teach me about the process of cyanotype and lead me to create 75 successful pieces. This year and the repetitive failures that came with it, taught me an important lesson: Failure is a gift.
But this is not how we often think about failure right? A gift? No way. Failure is day-ruining and soul-crushing. Failure brings us to our lowest. Avoided it at all costs.
But is this always true? No.
It is only true when we tune into a certain narrative: Success is the primary goal. Perfection is necessary. Mistakes not allowed.
But these expectations are more fitting for a machine than a human. It is hardly necessary to say that humans are flawed. So is success, devoid of failure, a fitting goal for such a creature?
At this point in my life, I would say no. But for most of it, I don’t think I would have agreed with myself. Past Christa only had two ways she could live under such a burden. Let is crush her. Crumble under the weight of such unachievable expectations. Each time losing the strength to rise and try again. Or refuse to take it on. Settle for an unintentional passive life. No longer creating and participating in anything meaningful or beautiful but safe from failure.
She could not do the latter and chose the former. But was slowly crumbling under the weight of such severe expectations.
It was a couple of weeks before my second collection release, and I still had many pieces to finish. I was losing it. For the first time, I thought I could empathize with Van Gough’s ear cutting urges. I worried I wouldn’t finish in time. This fear consumed me and frustration and disappointment filled the day.
Around this time I found the work of Ron Nicole. She creates the most beautiful floral plaster reliefs. I quickly began to respect her practice and her very honest and generous words. In the midst of my downward spiral, she shared something I had never heard before.
The artistic practice requires failure.
Failure is a gift.
If you can not see it this way, you will not make it as an artist.
This stopped me in my tracks. Wait, you mean, I don’t need to be frustrated by my failed pieces? That it is a natural part of the process? And that if I let it, failing provides an opportunity to learn?
Yes. It can and it does. With this new narrative, I learned to be kind to myself. Slow success didn’t crush me. My accusations of blame and harshness turned into curious questions and delightful challenges. I was able to let go of the fear of not succeeding so that I could fall in love with the process and realize that the end result isn’t really the goal in the first place.
I believe this is true not just of the artistic process, but of the human experiences as well.
Failure is a gift. It provides us the opportunity to learn, teaches us to persevere and to love the process no matter the result.