How to Avoid Failure


Meteoric, 8 x 7″ monoprint, ink and pastel

“There is no such thing as failure. There are only results.”

– Anthony Robbins

We are in such a rush to judge. Perhaps artists are even more prone to this pernicious tendency because we are always trying to figure out if what we’re doing is any good. Should we do more of the same, are we on the right track, is this painting better or worse than the last one? If we decide our work isn’t good or isn’t improving, we might conclude that it is (or we are) a failure.

What if we instead simply looked at each piece or art as a “result”? Implied in this is a heavy does of detachment from the success or failure of the piece, regardless of how we measure that. If we could simply look at the work as a result along the way, perhaps we could more objectively assess what we could do differently next time. We could dispense with the useless negative self-judgement that accompanies the concept of “failure” and focus on what we learned, what we could change, what work should be done next. The concept of “result” implies temporary – there will be more results and they may be different than this result. And that alone may prevent us from giving up and allow us to pick up the brush again and face the blank canvas.

I’m not saying that I always take this approach to my own work, though sometimes I am able to achieve this state of mind. It’s so second nature for us to judge our efforts. But when I can suspend judgement, the level of pressure goes down and the level of pleasure goes up.

7 responses to “How to Avoid Failure

  1. Robbins is a smart guy! (you too for citing him)… I do not know why but I never thought otherwise… I always tell this to my pupils (nuns between 35 and 80) not to worry and that there is NO FAILURE possible in painting or drawing…You just start again, repaint it…

    Ok, you may be unable to SELL a work etc. but that, in my view, it’s never a failure… Did Van Gogh sold a lot before he died? and he cannot be called a failure…not now…

  2. What a great quote, and something I have discovered, too. The result may not be what we expected, but it is still a result. I find I learn something from every single piece of art I create. . . even if it’s not to do something like that again.

  3. Hi Bob
    Great quote again! and as usual intriguing thoughts! My art pal was over this weekend and getting frustrated with a piece that didn’t turn out how she wanted… I told her [in effect to suspend judgment] to just look at it as a layer of play… that most of my work is layer upon layer of joy [often with some gesso mixed in]… and hopefully that energy comes through the end result whenever I happen to get there lol! There is always more to learn in this art game! namaste Elis.

  4. Danu, Mary, Ellis –

    Thanks for your comments!

    Words have such power. Sometimes if we just use different words to think about something (result vs success/failure) it can alter our emotional state. Robbins talks a lot about this concept – my experience is that it takes a lot of mental discipline to follow it in practice. Something I’m working on in many areas of my life…

  5. I take a lot of comfort from Robbins’ quote, Bob, particularly today, when I begin to see the downside of releasing my Derby song into the voracious jaws of the world. Not all reactions have been good, nor should one expect them to be. But Robbins’ outlook allows me to accept that my song is what it is, to be loved, ignored or hated. Nevertheless, the overall mood is a positive one, but, the tiniest barb will wound me!

  6. Kev

    I’m glad that there is some solace here for you – I know how delicate the launch of a new piece of art into the world can be and how seemingly insensitive to that the public can be. I hate those tiny barbs – they’re like paper cuts, small but painful. The good news is, they usually heal quickly.

  7. Have spent a few days now ‘wasting paint’ – or that’s how it feels. There’s a real tendency to think of it all as failure when it doesn’t come up to scratch, but I guess it’s like any work – you have good days and bad days but all days are experience and add value of some sort. I liked this comment very much as it makes me feel like even what I consider to be a terrible day provides some sort of result.

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