Sunday, September 23, 2007

Culpa Minor

You have to be willing to be bad. You have to be willing to fail. No one tells you this.

As an artist you have know this. You are going to make awful things. You are going to make mistakes. Never mind that this is in large part how we really learn. Hard knocks. We learn by screwing up.

So here is the kicker: if we can't admit to our mistakes, if we can't admit when we've been bad...what? We don't learn!

Doing something bad or making mistakes is impossible to contemplate for so many of us, especially those of us who have high expectations of ourselves or thrust upon us. This is what accounts for what are called underachievers and overachievers. High and low expectations.

Admitting to mistakes or failure is so impossible for some people that they resort to denial, lies, blaming, cover-ups, misdirection, and anything else that will get them off the hook. They are PARALYZED by the very idea of mistakes or failure. They even become hostile.

Admitting to mistakes and failure not only allows us to learn, make amends, and move on; it allows us to take risks. Risks become impossible if mistakes or failure are forbidden. Learning from our mistakes not only helps us grow, so does taking risks. Admitting to mistakes and failure takes courage; not doing so is giving into fear.

As an artist one learns very quickly to treat failure and mistakes as friends. So often you hear of the "happy accident." Artists make a special effort to incorporate what would otherwise be considered a mistake or failure and learn from it. It enlarges their experience, and it makes them brave. It explains why so many of us give up on our dream to become an artist. We can't tolerate the shame of so much disappointment. It also might explain why so many of those who do go on to be artists aren't afraid of a lifetime of failure. It is more than art being its own reward; it is more than learning to get back up after getting knocked down on a regular basis; it is the profound knowledge that we are always learning and that we and our work will be better for it, and that that is what is most important.

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