A list of mistakes
by Robert Genn

October 13, 2009

Dear Rodney,

This morning, Michael Epp of Bowen Island, B.C., wrote: "'Just take away 
everything that doesn't look like a horse.' That's what the sculptors say. 
Which implies that as long as you avoid all the obvious mistakes, you'll end 
up with something good. By definition, perfection is merely an absence of 
error. Is there a list of mistakes for artists to avoid making?"

Thanks, Michael. Your note caught my attention because it had some wonderful 
assumptions. The horse concept is a vital one because it stresses creation by 
reduction, in other words the removal of material. This removal does not imply 
mistakes, but rather the vacuum created to disclose the horse in question. The 
other three prime suspects in your note are the words "good," "perfection," 
and "error." In the art game, all are subjective and mighty arbitrary. 
Nevertheless, I'm on your question like a fat kid on a Smartie.

Don't assume there is only one way. Don't assume that mistakes are a bad 
thing. Don't think for one minute that everyone agrees with what "good" is. 
Don't fall into the trap of thinking perfection is attainable or even 
desirable. Don't assume the existence of error. Art is not based on a 

Art is something else. It is, for better or for worse, the bending of personal 
will. And while some artists may attempt standards such as academic standards, 
commercial standards or intellectual standards, there will always be 
significant creators who don't give a hoot about standards at all.

The main thing you need to think about is process. Your process. Individual 
decisions cannot be taken from some list. They are the result of your previous 
moves, including your errors. They are also the result of your noted winnings. 
This is how you-as-a-person becomes you-as-an-artist.

Funnily, in youth, we are often rigid. We tend to think there is some secret, 
some Holy Grail that will have great art appear on our easels. We may even 
dream that fame and fortune will arise from this correctness. As we grow 
older, we realize just how limiting were our earlier conceptions. Art is 
something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open ended, never complete, and 
never perfect. Art is an event.

Best regards,


PS: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which 
ones to keep." (Scott Adams)

Esoterica: There are two kinds of students--recipe takers and recipe fighters. 
The former listen to the instructor, try to get it "right," and often succeed 
in doing so. The latter strike out on their own, pay the price of rugged 
individualism, and fail often. In art, it's all about failure. In art, the 
journey outshines the destination. In art, mistakes are golden.