Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Preparing to be wrong . . .


A friend of mine is interested in creating things, in art, but he rarely sticks with one area or genre. He'll try something and if it doesn't quickly come out "perfect," he loses heart and moves on to something else. And then something else. And then something else. And then bemoans the fact that he doesn't seem talented at anything.

He admits it's a fear of failure that's holding him back. And he's not alone. So many of us travel that same road.

There's something I wrote in my journal a couple of months ago that struck me as being pithy (oh, what is life without a little pith?):

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original." -- Sir Ken Robinson in a talk about how education kills creativity

To illustrate (I hope) what I'm talking about, let me show you something I did to a photo I took of the juvenile barred owl that showed up the other morning. The last photo I took of him is the second image in this post. I was shooting at ISO 3200 and the photo is very grainy. I was shooting handheld at f/4, but the shutter speed was a slow 1/20 second and so my photo is blurry. Not usable at all.

But what I liked about the photo was how the owl was perched on a thin branch, his shape is well-defined, and he's looking right back at me. To me it's classic "owl" and some might even consider it a bit spooky.

I didn't delete the picture because I thought maybe it had potential.

The shot was grainy and soft. What if I were to emphasize those "flaws" rather than try to hide them? So I used a drawing program in Topaz to blur out the details a bit, to remove the color, and to create texture rather than try to smooth out the grain.

But for me that wasn't enough. I tried using a variety of textures in the picture to add even more "tooth" and to make the image look a bit spookier. The first six or so textures I tried didn't work for me. But then something did, and so I used it, flipped it, used it again, and the top photo is the result.

Is it wonderful? Good enough to sell, maybe? Nah, I don't think so. But I think it's still rather cool, something different, not perfect, but not so bad, either. I like how there's sort of a wintry feel to the picture, how the owl stands out (created by my cropping the image down to a square), and how there's no question he's watching me.

What's my point? If I'm looking for perfection, if I'm afraid of failure, I should have thrown away my original blurry/grainy picture and moved on. But because I felt there might be something more to the image, I decided to play with it. Not create something perfect. But play. Take delight in the process rather than being rigidly attached to the outcome.

Because no matter how much I want my work to be perfect, my joy comes from the experimenting, the playing, and I learn something each and every time. I learn what works, what doesn't, what might work even better with a different picture. Nothing goes to waste. And I am having fun.

Perfectionism, I believe, is highly overrated. It can be boring, stifling, and restricting. And if the first time you sat down to make a basket or paint a watercolor or make a clay pot it came out perfectly, what then? Where's the fun in that? Art, to me, is all about solving problems. How can I create a mood with this image? How can I attach this piece of paper to that piece and create a collage that looks like a landscape? What if I attach this fabric to that wire and then mount the thing on a piece of driftwood? How can I do it better or differently next time? And the next? And the next?

Art isn't rocket surgery. (My favorite phrase of late.) Art is play. Art is experimentation. Art is process. And if the outcome is amazingly wonderful, then hooray for you! And if it's not, you still had a good time just playing. Children don't make sandcastles to make them perfect. They make them because it's fun. The process is simply fun.

Wishing you a week full of fun, no matter what you do.

©Carol Leigh
 All text, photographs, and other media are ©Copyright Carol Leigh (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from Carol Leigh. Thank you!


1 comment:

Laura said...

Awesome....totally understand about process. Younger artist asked the older artist, What your favorite piece? Old artist says...the one I'm working on right now.