August 19, 2008
Artists with integrity and high standards can fall prey to a
particularly nasty condition. It's called "Prior
Failed works of art and even disappointing passages,
particularly recent ones, can haunt and disarm your current
work. You may have noticed when returning from a holiday, you
sometimes paint freshly and well for a few days and then the old
decay sets in. If you've ever experienced this situation, I'm
here to help you understand why the decline happens and what you
can do about it. When you're returning from that holiday, you've
actually been temporarily energized because you've not recently
experienced failure. This gives a clue to the "fresh
slate" and "beginner's mind" approach to
You need to drop into short-term thinking and to live in the
now. This may seem a bit trendy, but it's been my observation
that highly realized artists have a knack for getting into the
now and thereby achieving regular renewal and a clearer creative
path--a state of mind that sidesteps potential historical
History, when we admit it, often holds the evidence of failure.
You need to get rid of the evidence, both mental and physical,
by putting prior failures to the wall or shredding them.
"See no evil," is the motto. Look only at what you
consider your better stuff. Otherwise, the stealthy voice of
inner doubt will get a hearing.
For some artists the syndrome causes so much anxiety that panic
sets in and work can grind to a halt. One way to beat the
problem is to angrily change some processes and give yourself a
major shakeup. As well, bouts of physical exercise, like
mini-holidays, can also be used to re-jig systems.
The operative game is to take charge of your mind and drop into
a state of confident, audacious and untroubled flow. You'll know
it when it happens because it's almost goofy. Every stroke seems
a new experience. It requires a sort of reverse thinking, and
unless you happen to be a reverse-minded genius, it's learned.
This may sound nuts, but believe me, for seasoned, demanding
artists, this goofyness is right up there with stuff like
perspective, negative areas and the difference between warm and
PS: "Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment." (Dalai
Lama) "Success is often achieved by those who don't
know that failure is inevitable." (Coco
Esoterica: Books have been written on the value of failure and
the lessons to be gleaned from disappointment. Creators like
Leonardo, Edison and Steve Jobs depend on their repeated
failures to get to their successes. While artists can certainly
learn from their own and other's failures, the joyous, daily
production of art has further parameters. Perceived prior
failures dampen or jinx current successes. Flush your losers.
Think in the now. As Henry
Ford said, "History is bunk."