I was struck by Sunil’s post about his alteration/destruction of work into which he had put so much effort. In fact, I liked his revised “Palimpsest” very much, although I can see that it doesn’t resemble much of what he has shown us before this.
Because I have so many failed, partly completed, destroyed, altered, and despised pieces sitting around in boxes, baskets, photos and my memory, I thought I’d run through a taxonomy of my bad work and its place in my art-making universe. Ultimately my question is whether I’ve made adequate categories of “failure” or if there are others that could be added; in addition, I wonder if you can suss out what “runs” your failures — what, particularly if it’s not just a problem of quality, causes you to throw up your hands and ditch work.
So here are my categories. There’s work that simply fails — period, full stop. There’s work that gets altered, thus morphing into something else. There are series that come to an abrupt halt. And finally there’s work that’s put on hold.
Failed work has its own subcategories, of course, including failures to work the materials, failures of skill, failures of insight, and failures of resonances within one’s conceptual worlds.
Big Hair failed on many accounts and has finally been recycled. I may have started to quilt it to add texture, but whatever I did, didn’t save it. I think my abilities outran my concept and then my concept became boring. And ultimately there may have been a failure to work the materials adequately, although that’s more easily remedied.
Blanche’s Eyes, while not meant to refer to Muslim women, did, and thus my intent was radically changed. It was a failure of insight. I never got far enough into it to decide if it could have been saved if the contextual references weren’t so strong. (Blanche was my Anglo protestant grandmother whom I never knew except through a few sentences of my mother’s and an elegant photo that I painted many times).
Kid with Vase was one of many pieces I produced while playing around with wire and textiles. I ultimately produced and exhibited some of these wire pieces, but this one never jelled for me. I think it was too cute and therefore offended my sensibilities — a failure of “resonance.” It was also difficult to make the materials secure enough to think about exhibiting. The quilted under-piece was set aside and then exhibited and finally sold. The Kid is still hanging in the basement, altered with some soaring wings. Still too cute.
I did a whole series of these dancing or moving female figures, in various modes:
With the female figures, I think there was a failure of ability and resonance. In the end, I wasn’t sure what I wanted them to present, what it was I was trying to express. But I did figure out a more meaningful (to me) direction for playing with the human figure — more about that at the end of the post.
Then there are the pieces that get modified until they are more or less acceptable:
The version above was somewhat evocative, but much too pink. I was working on a series that I called “Interiors” (referring to human psyches) and needed to internalize the image somewhat more, which I did, as seen below. (The triangles unbutton, like a coat.)
I also have series that just get halted, where I failed in both imagination and concept.
Audrey (referencing the Little House of Horrors) was the final of four of these winged creatures, devised of chicken wire, silk, and other unlike elements. I liked all four of them (and am particularly fond of Audrey) but they are more whimsy than anything else. And my store of whimsy got quickly exhausted. Curators in the textile fields like these very much, probably because they were pedestal pieces instead of wall hangings, but they are difficult to ship and are now sitting around the house, waving at me as I go by.
Finally, while a whole batch of female figures are stuffed into baskets in various stages of incomplete failed-ness, they did lead to this (and a couple other) completed figures:
Mrs. Willard Waltzes with the Petunias is whimsical, but fits into my exploration of the interiors of ordinary humans as well as the richness of inner lives. And Mrs. Willard is an on-going character in one of my series that’s on hold. The image at the head of this post is of this same series — “Mrs. W. dices with the devil” is worth pursuing regardless of its particular artistic flaws. It’s part of a series that I can see extending as far as my skill and energy can carry it because it still resonates with me.
I suspect that what I call “resonance” is what Sunil would call “meaning.” Without the resonance within, I get bored or careless with my work. I can often work around failure resulting from formal art problems, but I must have the resonance to continue.
So are these categories adequate for failed work? And what are the reasons that you stop working on a piece or a series — a failure of skill? of imagination? of conceptual adequacy? Are there particular kinds of “failure” that are worth continuing to circle?