What if no one likes it?
What if no one comes to see it?
What if I don’t manage to finish it?
What if I can’t realise my idea?
What if it just doesn’t go to plan?
Practically every artist asks themselves a question along those lines about practically every piece of work. It’s natural. It’s not only part of the creative process, but it’s human. And behind each of these questions is another – almost the same one, every time: What if I fail? Well… What if you do?
It really depends on how you measure success and failure – if you think of them as absolute and rigid concepts, or flexible ones responsive to the contexts and situations of a(ny) piece of work. As we work on Trawl, our installation for Portsmouth Festivities 2017, we’ve asked ourselves often about what we’ll do if things don’t work out how we imagined them initially. It’s something that each of us has done with previous projects.
Sometimes, it serves to enable us to explore our ideas and the potential for their success from unexpected perspectives, acknowledging other means to achieve our goals. Other times, the uncertainty and self-doubt stop us in our tracks, and we convince ourselves that there’s no point in carrying on.
What we don’t do, however, is give in to the latter way of thinking. We allow ourselves a couple of moments’ indulgence in thinking of the very worst possible outcomes, and everything that could go wrong, and… Well, then we just get on with it. We’re all familiar with ‘the only failure is in not trying’ way of thinking (attributed on many motivational posters to such people as Elbert Hubbard, Sister Madonna Buder and George Clooney) – well, there’s a reason that saying, and that way of thinking, has become so popular – it’s true.
In artistic, artisanal and creative terms, as long as you start something, you’ve finished something. It sounds a little bizarre, but it’s true. It depends on your perspective. Think about when you’ve stopped working on something – anything – for a second. It doesn’t matter whether you end up with simply part of a process, or a partial or full outcome or output – as long as you have something, anything, you’ll have succeeded. Yep, still true.
Why do we say this? Why would, say, a couple of sketches be as significant or useful to a designer as a completely realised production of an original idea? Because these would still prove a creative concept. These would still prove creative work. These would still provide a talking point for and amongst colleagues, clients and consumers. The person behind them would still have explored something new or learned something; they would still have something to take with them into future work.
Whatever your goal – if you don’t achieve it in its entirety, but find some value in those parts you do, then you’ll not have failed. Because you can always create a new goal of exploring and interrogating what you have achieved, and, well, achieve that. Each project and each product is part of the entirety of your practice. They become part of your history as an artist and help inform your future. Every one thing that happens is part of a much larger, and more significant process.
We know that whatever happens with Trawl, we’ll have something that will inform our future work, develop Croshare’s practice, and allow us to develop individually as artists – and, as such, we won’t fail.