Fundamental Failing and the Artistic Process


Annie Irwin
Teaching Assistant, Painter, Weaver, Textiles Artist

My days making art are made up of a series of problems, which over time, I learn to avoid by trial and error. Or sometimes, I just fall flat on my face.

I find the artistic process to be no different. We learn to avoid problems only by bumping right into them. The uniqueness of any individual artistic process is how we troubleshoot. When I started art school, I was quickly frustrated by my lack of ability to find subjects in life to draw that truly interested me. I lacked control over what I wanted to make. My drawings of shells and plants were the results of as much inspiration as comes from a souvenir bag-o-shells in a coastal town gas station or a plastic houseplant with no context. The hours I spent sitting in front of houses that did and continue to actually inspire me, might well have warranted my arrest for loitering.

Dilemmas happen every day in art making.  They are never a bad thing. Creative thinking is a means to work around these dilemmas.  Reframing your problem will allow you to approach it with new direction. By shifting perspectives you can flip your problem into a prompt. How can I draw what I have around me to create what I am inspired by conceptually?

While this question lingered, for an assignment in drawing class, I was set on including a sock monkey in my drawing. The catch was, I didn’t have a sock monkey. I had to make it. To be perfectly honest, it was a Frankenstein monster made from paint-dyed socks, yarn and lace from the thrift store, and terrible embroidery. Monster grotesqueness aside, it was my monster, and I could control how the lighting would work, the space, and the context in which my bizarre sock creature could be drawn.

That initial sock monkey was a turning point.  The physicality that I could apply in my drawing started before the canvas, and opened all of the doors I had seen as locked. These objects were essential in my artistic growth and contributed to my choice to pursue a degree in the medium of Textiles instead of Painting.   My new found practice fueled the concept for countless works, and inspired my entire undergraduate thesis. Today, the monkeys live on and are being sold as artist edition objects in Colorado. The artistic process calls for these moments, to encounter problems, while frustrating, is the most eye-opening thing that can happen. Fail faster, fail better, and troubleshoot!

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3 responses on "Fundamental Failing"

  1. Profile photo of Casey Roonan

    Really enjoyed finally getting the back-story on those sock monkeys… I’m often amazed by how much seemingly-unrelated and over-complicated work we sometimes need to get through before we finally figure out what our true intentions are for a piece, or stumble upon a more poignant idea! Last year I made a bunch of mix CDs for a few of my friends for a road trip, with hand-made sleeves and risograph-printed album art. I had so much fun designing the illustrations and making these prints that I decided to make a series out of it, and now I’m making these mix CDs on a bi-monthly basis. As I was laboring over the playlist for this most recent piece, though, it occurred to me that in a lot of ways what I was doing was totally superfluous: I’d given myself the task of making these “mixes” purely as a backwards excuse to try printmaking!

  2. Profile photo of Clara Lieu

    Accepting failure is such a critical part of the learning process. I have found that many students are so worried about failing or not being good at something that they end up always taking the safer, more convenient route and therefore never end up trying something different! It’s hard to fail, nobody enjoys it, but ultimately you can reap great rewards in the end.

  3. Profile photo of Deepti Menon

    “Fail faster, fail better, and troubleshoot!” – amazing advice!!!!

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