The success of Failure-

A number of years back I heard the philosopher James Elkins speak. He described himself as a failed painter and, at the time, I thought this was a strange way to see ones self-in terms of failure.  He was speaking on his work The Domain of Images, and this failure was a lead in to how he ended up doing some of the work he did. Makes sense. I still find it strange to  look at failure as a descriptor. Until now.

I have made a huge decision-and it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be!  I am a failure. At least as a painter.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be painting ever again, it just means that I have made a major decision to move away from my ideas of a career as a visual artist.  In this last year I have done a lot of shedding.  Shedding of ideals, dreams, obligations, irritating people, bad ideas, relentless pursuit of acceptance (of my work AND my person), time sucks, life sucks, and-in general-things that don’t make life better and are a drain rather than a support.  Along with this I have decided to add ‘art career’ to the list. And you know what? I am so. OK. withit. #sookwithit.

This doesn’t include throwing the baby out with the bathwater-if the opportunity presents itself I will say yes (to certain things) but I am not throwing my money and time and self worth at something that no longer has an allure for me.

Oddly enough it was a very light feeling choice.  I had been invited by a friend to exhibit work in her church.  This is a weird request in and of itself because I don’t, typically, make ‘churchy’ kind of work. I deal with issues of sexism, war, aging and sexuality-things that don’t normally go hand in hand with the church crowd. I hear it has been well received and talked about at length. Yay.  What is interesting about this show is that there was a single piece that I wanted to include-one which directly addressed the role of women in the church and was one of my favorite mixed media works. You think I could find it?  Have I mentioned that 99% of our belongings are in storage?  I searched like mad to find the piece but thanks to the bizarre labyrinth my husband constructed in our storage unit that defied both logic and the organizational structure I put in place-it has been incomprehensibly lost until we unpack (which ain’t gonna be for a while).

Anyway-this show is a cross section of my work and as I looked at all these paintings together in one place I really thought “not too shabby”. I also thought that this was only something I do. Something to fill time. Fill space.  Just filler and not, ultimately, the definition of me. And, easy as that I was able to let it go. All of it. If this means I have failed then I will add that line on to my resume. Failed Painter, 1998-2014.

Failure is a word I have a hate/hate relationship with-it implies an end. An end to trying, An end to worth.  In my last post I shared how I drilled into my students that to describe your work, ideas or whatever as failure that you are imbuing a lack of value that demeans and denigrates. Which is true.  Which makes it doubly weird for me to even consider embracing this title.  But, what if, just what if, in freeing myself from the burden of ‘success’ I might just find a new path in the right direction.  What if acknowledging that it has been willfulness to see ‘things’ happen that has kept me from seeing where it is I am really meant to be?

I am still working through this process and if I can find a better word than failure I will gladly adopt it-until then I am embracing it because it is giving me the freedom to be open to whatever comes next! And, this is nothing but a good thing.

OH, and before I forget-the final confirmation arrived this week-one last rejection letter letting me know I was turned down for a grant to help support my studio practice.  It was definitely an ouch moment but also an answer to the question I had laid out about what to do next.  Had it come a couple weeks ago I would have continued to plow forward in my relentless pursuit of my so called career. Timing is everything! I am embracing the no and turning instead to an unknown future-one that is open and free from imposed restrictions.

As I go forward, I am focusing on a new project-the Rejection Chronicles.  I have found that, in my own journey, rejection is playing a key role in altering and determining future choices.  Rejection is fraught with negative implications but the more I look into rejection itself so much can be learned! I am hoping that the interviews I will begin posting towards the end of the month will prove to be enlightening and encouraging.

We have ALL been there and to learn from others can be a powerful tool.  I look forward to sharing Rejection Chronicles with you in the coming weeks!

In the mean time-if you have an artist, speaker, writer or any other creative you would like to hear talk about rejection drop me a note or leave a comment and I will consider adding them to the list!

AND, remember, just do the work you were created to do (no matter how small or big)-even if the world doesn’t accept it at first. You were created to do the work ONLY you can do and it is simply marvelous!

Enjoy the AND because that is where the journey is happening…



Step Away from the Post…or not.

So, it only took three days!  Yup, three whoooooole days for me to wonder exactly I had gotten myself into this time.  I spent a good portion of yesterday looking at all the amazing blogs that are part of the Write 31 Days challenge and with each click I felt like an outsider. This is a condition I find myself in. A lot.  Who was it that said “Comparison is the thief of joy”? OK, I am a total geek and I know the answer-just wanted to phrase it as a question. It was Teddy Roosevelt.

Gorgeous graphics, wise and well crafted writing, great topics and all around perfect looking blogs for about three hours and I was left wishing I hadn’t done signed up. What can I possibly offer to the conversation? Nothing interesting or new, that’s for sure. After a healthy dose of self loathing with a smidge of pity thrown in for good measure I was reminded why I chose-yes, chose-to do this. It was a challenge to write. Something I have wanted to pursue and have always loved.

My earliest recollection of wanting to write was when I was maybe 8 or 9.  I had seen a contest in the local paper looking for stories of unsung hero’s and why they deserved to be recognized. In my most earnest, youthful way I set out to write a story for the contest. I knew right away who I was going to write about!! I was so excited! I wrote my little heart out, sent my entry in and waited. It is SO hard to wait when you just know you are going to win!  I got my first rejection letter a few weeks later. I didn’t understand, I mean, how could I have lost? No one had ever written a song about Frederick Douglass Jr.-come on!! See, what my little old writer self didn’t know was that unsung meant unrecognized. I realized this-and learned a great lesson-when I read the winners submissions.

I continued to submit for different things and was even published (kids section in the local paper-no big digs) once or twice.  Somewhere along the way I gave it up.  Don’t know why-maybe it was the rejections out weighing the acceptances-but I think it had more to do with the increasing inhibitions that accompanied growing up. And comparison. I developed a severe case of ‘others’. Others were better at almost everything so why bother.


Fast forward a few years (ahem) and I am still dealing with comparison.  AND, I am still allowing it to steal my joy!  The definition above has some interesting points to it-especially the bit about a “voluntary…restraint on the direct expression of an instinct”. This implies a willingness to act against what one really wants. Is this what I do? Do I willfully allow comparison and all the other negative thoughts inhabit my thoughts? Do I allow what I think others think of me get in the way? Do I allow that voice that says I am not as good as _______ keep me from taking the next step? Have I spent too many years wanting to fit in-to be as cool as or as good as or as whatever as? Uh, yeah.

10684316_702070369884973_803560635_nI wish I knew who said this-I couldn’t find an attribution but I give props to whoever did.  I still nod yes when I read it.  This is where I want to be-to have that confidence in where I am and quit comparing myself to what everyone else is doing.  I may not be changing the world with what I write but I am writing none-the-less so that alone has value.  I am still getting lots of rejections-more that 30 so far this year for my art work (none for writing cause you can’t get rejected if you haven’t sent anything off!) and I am learning to let it slide right off. That it isn’t personal and that I need to keep going.

I will probably talk about rejection some more on down the road but I will leave it alone for now. For today, just today, let’s focus on forward motion-on taking that next step one at a time and not all at once.  I am looking forward to following a lot of great bloggers out there and I know I will learn a ton and though I am truly sorry I couldn’t get a song written about Mr. Douglass I am grateful that I remembered that the desire to write goes a long way back. AND, maybe its worth going forward with 😉

What holds you back? What is your ‘thief’?  Let’s shake them off together!

Enjoy the AND because that is where the journey is happening-