Uncomfortable Failure and Incredible Art

Being an art major sometimes makes me uncomfortable. At times it also makes me feel incredibly awkward. I can guess what you’re thinking, but no, this is not because of the nude paintings or performance art. Being an art major makes me uncomfortable because I’m often forced to fail.

While studying art, I have often been told to try something new.

These words fill me with all sorts of anxiety. The creative process is all about leaning out of your comfort zone in order to create something unique and meaningful. The thought of exiting my comfort zone makes me squirm. Usually, trying something new results in failure, and I hate failing.

I am a planner by nature. I want to make a plan, stick to it, and achieve my desired results. I don’t want to merely try; I want to succeed. This means that when I don’t think I can succeed, I begin to make a million excuses so that I don’t even have to try. Phrases like, “That project wouldn’t work out anyways,” “I don’t have enough time,” or the classic, “That’s not really my aesthetic,” run through my head. However, behind all these excuses is the hidden fear of failure that comes from trying something new.

This summer, that fear was thrown in my face daily. I interned at the Harrison Center for the Arts, a community arts center in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Harrison Center works extensively in its surrounding community and is home to the studios of around 40 local artists. For two and half months I was surrounded by some of the most creative, talented, and productive people I have ever met. Their skill and ambition constantly inspired me. I talked to many artists who quit their day jobs so that they could pursue art full-time.

“But weren’t you afraid you wouldn’t be successful?” I often asked. “Of course, but I had to try,” was their usual response. They were all uniquely talented, but they shared one trait: they tried, even when they were afraid. They took risks and often they failed. I met sculptors who took on projects that they didn’t even know how to begin. Some artists made dozens of pieces but only sold four. Other artists made dozens of pieces and didn’t sell any. No matter what, they continued to try, despite discouraging results.

Working with these people was as convicting as it was inspiring. As an intern, people asked me to do jobs that I normally would have shied away from because they seemed too daunting, or I felt ill-equipped to complete them.

However, I was forced to try because that was my job. Even when I was unsure about projects that pushed me miles out of my comfort zone, I gave it a shot. Sometimes I failed. I made lots of mistakes and asked lots of questions and I had to ask for help. I started projects with almost no clue where they were going and sometimes they flopped. Other times, they succeeded and I was proud of what I had created. At the end of the summer, a few successes and many failures added up to one big experience that made me a better artist and gave me more courage to expand my comfort zone.

Here is my challenge to you: don’t let fear keep you from trying something new. Even if you don’t have a speck of interest in the arts, there are other creative outlets that will stretch your comfort zone. Finish that short story you never completed. Write a song, even if you’re convinced it won’t be good enough to share.

Send in that Bagpipe article you’ve always been too afraid to type. Make a painting to give to someone. Try something new, and perhaps you will fail, but then dig into the discomfort of that failure and recognize the value of that comes from the experience. Learning to fail pushes us towards greater heights of creativity. As I begin this semester, I’ll keep in mind the example of the incredible people at the Harrison Center whose failures led to greater success.