Prior disappointment syndrome

August 19, 2008

Artists with integrity and high standards can fall prey to a particularly nasty condition. It's called "Prior disappointment syndrome."

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 creativity.

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 burdens.

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 cool.

Best regards,


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 Chanel)

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."