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Failure and the Art of Success

AnotherAbby's picture

I was just reflecting a little on this evening's events and wanted to make a post about it.

At Zadie Smith’s talk tonight, I really wanted to ask her about her views on failure as a part of the creative process. I’ve always thought that the ability to fail but continue on despite that is one of the most important parts of a creative process and creating art. I mean, it stands to reason, because if you’re great at something from the very beginning, what’s the point of continuing to work at it? And, conversely, if you fail and give up, of course you’re not going to make something that matters to the creative world, because you’ve given up.

Basically, for me, the constant reality of my own failings and shortcomings are what keep me constantly striving to improve at something.  I write a lot, hate almost all of it, and don’t show it to anyone. I have a lot of comedy sketches and sci-fi stories saved on my computer that are never going to see the light of day again, and plenty of art pieces that are only still around because my mom wants to meticulously archive my childhood and teen years.

I consider those “projects” failings because they don’t get across what I want to say one way or another, or aren’t proper representations of what I know I have inside me. I’ve failed every time before at saying what I want to say, and even the few times that I have been able to feel content with what I’ve created, inevitably I face rejection from without, like when the gallery hosting our school’s senior art show wanted to twist the meaning of my installation piece, which was based on a very personal experience, in order to make it “more interesting”. Even though that may not sound like failure, to me it was like them telling me that what I’d created and what I was trying to say were not worthwhile. 

And that’s why I’m going to keep going; in order to make something that someone else in the world will give a damn about.

As for Zadie, overall, she seems to have been successful right from the start, in terms of critical reception. She wrote some of her first book while she was still in college, for which there was a bidding war, and doesn’t seem to have had to fight too much against constant rejection, as she mentioned some of her peers do. I guess in the end I didn’t think it would be that relevant to her, which is why I didn’t ask, but I have to wonder if she’s felt the same failure on a personal level, and if that’s why she keeps writing—to make something she feels finally represents her.

Anyone else feel the same way? Or have thoughts on it?


Anne Dalke's picture

"fail better"

Abby and others might be interested to know about an essay
Zadie Smith published in The Guardian in 2007 called Fail Better.