Failure: When you work on a piece for weeks, wrestling the paint and your vision, and they simply refuse to dance together. And you reach the desolate conclusion that it’s dead for good, and you rip it in half. It’s not a violent gesture, simply an acknowledgment of its state of being. And you feel like you’ll never paint anything worthwhile again, and why should you even try?
Rejection: When you pick up your artwork after receiving the polite message that “both pieces were not accepted.” And you feel like the emperor with no clothes on, exposed. A wanna-be artist with no talent. You give your name to the check-out person, hoping she won’t ask if any of your other pieces were accepted, like she asks the artist before who beams and says, “Oh, yes, I got two in.” Because, no, you didn’t. And you grab your art as quickly as you can and get the heck out of there, trying not to look at the paintings that were accepted, leering across the great divide of “real artist” and “wishing-I-could-paint-person.”
Passion: When you pick up that paintbrush, face the chasm of a blank sheet of white paper, and jump. Because you have to. Because you are not yourself if you are not painting. And rejection or failure aside, your heart can’t live if you don’t create.
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure and rejection lately. It just so happens that my son, who plays baseball, recently fought his way through a “slump.” limping through five games in a row without a hit. Today I picked up rejected pieces from a local show. So I guess it’s time to listen to my own advice.
Many times, I tell my son, new skills are lurking in our subconscious before we are even aware. For him, it’s hitting advice from a coach who works with major league players. For me, it’s a new foray into acrylics, a medium I haven’t used before. There is dissonance as we struggle to wrangle these new skills into intentional, conscious use. They poke and prod at our old way of seeing, and the old way reveals its short-comings before the new vision backs up its promise with tangible evidence. It’s an awkward phase. But, it’s coming. No doubt it’s coming.
At the same time, struggle builds perseverance. There are many stories of people who achieve “success” only after years of rejection and failure. Of course, when you are the one on the journey, you don’t know the outcome. And therein lies the pain. Because you may or may not succeed. If you knew that you would pay ten years of failure for the price of success, you could persevere so much easier. But true perseverance goes deeper than external evidence. It taps down deep into the core of passion. And your passion is the truly unique gift you have to offer the world. It’s the gift that changes people around you, whether you achieve visible “success” or not.
I also shared with my son this advice from Otto van Munchow, a photographer and blogger whose work I greatly admire, “This is when I know I have to let go. I have to stop pushing. Just be with whatever is. Instead of pressing for a change, I need to discover once again the small wonders that surround me all the time—” As I ponder his wise words, I find the guts to persevere – rediscovering joy and wonder becomes my path to passion.
So, here I am. I guess I really am an artist now. Because fail or succeed, I’m picking up that paintbrush again.