I can remember being twelve, and trying coloring with pastels for the first time. My mother and I had seen an artist do an “artistic worship session” in which she made a pastel portrait of clouds opening over a ocean during a particularly pink sunset while someone played acoustic worship songs. The lady had pastels for sale. So we bought some.
And I panicked. I couldn’t seem to make the colors do what I wanted, I couldn’t make the canvas feel the way I wanted to. I will always remember what my mother said next, a phrase she said oh so often but always rang true- (okay, it didn’t ring true at the time, it rang annoying, but I get it now)
She said, “art isn’t about your successes, it’s about how you handle your mistakes.”
The phrase was often famously followed by the addendum:
“A real artist doesn’t make mistakes. They have accidental inspiration.”
The point being that what we wish to create, what we plan on creating, and what actually makes itself real are very often at odds with each other. And, to be honest, without mistakes we’d never have real art. How many times did Davinci sketch the human anatomy before he made his famous drawing of the proportionate man? How many times did Picasso grow irritated at the perfect representations of his early art (which are picturesque to say the least) before he drew his grotesques and eventually made the art for which he became infamous? How many mistakes are hiding behind the wonders of the world? The portraits of our Presidents? The Great Wall of China? Pamela Anderson’s figure? (Okay, that last one is a joke.)
Back when I was first blogging, elsewhere, I wrote a post about how as babies we’ve got to fall before we can walk. (No link, apologies) The main gist of that post was that if we don’t mess up, we don’t have any experience to build on. If we never try to pull up and walk we’ll never get there, and the only way we can have success is to fall. A lot. A humiliating amount. And get hurt. Babies are resilient, they don’t care. They take all of the tumbles and face plants and oopsies as just a part of life. They laugh and they giggle and they try again and sometimes they even scream their adorable little heads off, but they just keep plowing through every mistake until they are successful.
And art is the same way- you have to embrace your mistakes as a marvelous part of the journey, as integral to the process of artistic growth as your success. In fact, it’s MORE integral, because your success depends on it.
But, let’s be honest- all of life is that way. Even love is that way. Even loving God is that way. Falling down, it happens. The question is how long do we keep getting up, keep giggling it off, keep that bullheaded determination to learn no matter what the cost? And do we do it the way a baby would, the way an artist would, embracing the journey as wholeheartedly as the destination?
I hope we do.