One of our cornerstone principles in making art (and teaching it) is that we learn from failure – more than from success. Success, however one may define it, often leads to more of the same, whereas a healthy disregard for it and a willingness to push past a goal accomplished can open up new opportunities for creative development and expansion. It is the yin and yang of art. This is the realm of the inveterate explorer, which we have found most professional artists to be. It takes time, discipline and above all, courage, to learn to work this way. After all, it isn't like our culture encourages us to be explorers in art – we must find our own way. We are always fascinated to hear how and when artists make the decision to be explorers and "damn the consequences." Our regular Voices of Experience interviews for members of The Artist's Road probe the many pathways artists have taken to make that crucial choice. In every case, they are willing to embrace the unknown and to walk freely, arm in arm, with their new friends, failure and success.
|Blue Rider by Wassily Kandinsky, 1903.|
It is unfortunate that the word "failure" has only negative connotations attached to it. It is an absolutely necessary part of innovation and creativity, and those who run technological businesses – really big ones like Google, understand the need to embrace the process by doing what they call "failing up." In other words, they measure their developmental progress by expecting it and exploiting what they learn when they don't get the results they hoped for. Sound familiar? It should. Business is actively analyzing the creative processes of artists and adapting our methods to make their businesses more innovative and competitive.
In the October 2014 issue of Scientific American, "How to Manage a Creative Organization" by Gareth Cook discusses how Harvard Business School's Linda A. Hill and her colleagues have identified three abilities that innovative organizations share, which they call "Creative Abrasion, Creative Agility and Creative Resolution". In short, Abrasion is the ability to be open minded to a diversity of ideas, thoughts, conflicts and solutions and hash through them productively. Agility is the ability to "refine ideas through quick pursuit, reflection and adjustment" – in other words, to experiment. And according to Ms. Hill, "Experiments . . . are about learning – and a negative outcome can provide important insights." Resolution is the ability to integrate diverse, sometimes opposable ideas, and combine or reconfigure them to create a new solution.
Every successful professional artist we know works this way, whether it is part of a plan or not. "Blind alleys" are just part of the turf we run. Innovators, as Ms Hill asserts, " . . . do not compromise or take the path of least resistance." Long may you run.
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–John and Ann