Fear & Failure – Our Two Companions
Quite some time ago while reading through a forum, I came across a post entitled “Afraid of Failure”. Curiosity made me click on it immediately – because fear and failure are pretty much prerequisites for success (I call them our two companions).
Because if your dreams don’t scare you somewhat then they aren’t big enough and if you never fail, then when will you learn?
But! I understand why we wish to avoid them – fear and failure simply don’t feel good.
When I clicked on the post it read as follows:
“Hello, I haven’t been on for ages as I haven’t painted anything for nearly 6 months now. I’ve given myself various reasons… But underlying it all the truth is that every single painting I’ve ever done has been a struggle. A struggle of not knowing if it’s going to work.
I spend hours and hours trying to get my paintings to turn out as I envisioned and there are only a couple that I’m really happy with once finished. Also, I’ve just started a commission and I already want to give up. Since I’ve taken such a long break from painting, I wonder if I’ve lost what ability I had before.
Do other artists feel like this and if so what do you do about it? I wonder if I should just give up for good if it makes me feel like this?”
Upon reading this, my heart really went out to the artist because I know that feeling all too well; what artist hasn’t felt that!
I felt compelled to address this because something important has been missing from discussions in the fine art industry – something that successful artists don’t talk about enough.
And that is – WHAT GROWTH LOOKS LIKE
The Gap We Just Can’t Get Around
I’ve been thinking this week about our journey as artists…
There are certain truths about our journey, which shall remain a fact despite how difficult they may be for us to take in. One of those truths is that you’re not going to become a master overnight.
You’re not going to master your art form in one day, one year, and probably not even in five years… yes, those are those truths we don’t quite like to hear.
Whilst we would love to think otherwise, preparing yourself for these truths, and what it requires to be a successful artist gives you sufficient inner strength to deal with the journey ahead.
For a large part of your career, there will always be a gap…
A gap between your ambitions and the reality of your skills.
The gap we just can’t get around!
Even once you’re established, you’ll encounter this whenever trying something new. Like anything else, progress and mastery take TIME.
We All Have to Go Through It!
It’s moments like this that I believe it’s important to share with you what growth REALLY looks like behind the scenes. For the most part, the artwork you see published on my website are what I consider to be my successful pieces. But what you don’t see are
- the pieces that I sincerely struggled with
- the pieces that challenged me beyond my capabilities
- the pieces that I couldn’t understand and wasn’t ready for
- the pieces that frustrated me
- the pieces that remain unfinished
- the pieces that made me feel as though I wasted time and materials
- the pieces that went straight from the easel into the trash
… the many… many… many pieces.
This is what growth looks like. It is THE GAP between our reality and our ambition. THE GAP shall very well exist and we all have to journey through it, ain’t no gettin round this one!
But in that gap, doesn’t have to be a source of frustration or disappointment! – In fact, it’s your greatest asset. – It is what fosters growth and it’s where we find our most valuable lessons. I’m going to show you what I mean.
Here is a glimpse into what the GAP has looked like for me over the years. Do not doubt for one moment that even the most successful artists haven’t navigated through the GAP.
Navigating The Gap
For a large part of your career, there will always be some form of a gap between your taste/ambitions and the reality of your skills. Even once you’re established, you’ll encounter this whenever trying something new.
Years ago, I remember expressing how frustrated I was with my work to my mentor whose work I absolutely admired, and she said to me: “Vanessa, I’ve been painting for almost 50 years, what you see before you took 50 years of continuous practice and learning… if it was easy I would have been painting like this from day 1″.
Of course she wasn’t saying that I had to wait 50 years, but she was putting into perspective the amount of TIME she had put in compared to what I had. It is THE GAP that no one tells us about – no one tells us what growth really looks and feels like. Growth will involve frustration, disappointment, confusion… growth will be a PROCESS.
We can often become very discouraged when our ability doesn’t match our vision that we lose sight of the bigger picture.
There’s great wisdom in accepting the difference between expectations and reality. You will fail at times to meet your expectations —but as I always tell artists, those failures, those art pieces which you deemed to be unsuccessful actually have the greatest value. They taught us lessons, and it is those lessons that enable us to create the successes, they are what enable us to create our masterpieces
As artists, the most important thing we can do is to do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that we’re going to catch up and close THE GAP. And eventually, the work you make will be as good as your ambitions.
Do the work, be patient and enjoy the journey!
The gap is closing, whether you see it or not!