Backyard in Spring 2011

It’s not a quilt, but I’ve shown this scene in fall and winter from my backyard–this is what it looks like in spring. The azaleas are plants I grew from cuttings given to me many years ago by a generous neighbor who taught a young girl and her newlywed husband valuable lessons about growing beautiful things. She’s gone now, but I think of her every spring when the azaleas bloom.

I just finished reading a fascinating book titled “Art & fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. This book was recommended to me by another generous friend–this one an artist who, like me, is always searching for ways to make better art. One of the quotes in the book that resonated with me the most was this one: “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.” And further, “even the failed pieces are essential.”

I deliberately chose a non-art picture for this post because I certainly don’t want to identify pieces of mine or of other artists that might be considered failures! I have always had trouble with the idea that some pieces just aren’t going to work–it seemed like such a waste of time and materials. But the reality is that sometimes that’s the case–it just isn’t always possible to realize the vision in my head with the materials and skills I have at the time.  It’s a revelation to me that the failure might be necessary for artistic growth. Another gem from the book: “the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.” I have had this happen more than once, so I can feel the truth of it. In fact, it happened during my March Project.

"Around the Block" unquilted top Cindy Grisdela 2011

The piece at right, “Around the Block” was Day 25 of my 30 quilt tops in the month of March project. But this piece almost ended up in the trash. I started it several days prior and it just didn’t work. I spent hours on it and I just couldn’t get it right, so I put it aside and made something else for that day. But I kept it up on my studio design wall and after a day or so I started thinking, “well, what if I did this or maybe that–would it work then? I should have taken a picture of it before I reworked it, but I didn’t think of it in time. Now this is one of my favorite tops from the project. I don’t know that it’s great art–it’s not finished yet, for one thing–but I learned a lot from the experience of creating it.

How do you handle failed pieces of art? Or other types of failures? Do you treat it as as a reason to stop trying, or an opportunity to learn and grow. If it’s the former, I’d definitely recommend reading this book! It completely changed my perspective.