When is a failure not a failure?

Dear friends,

They say that if you are not failing you are not trying hard enough, and also that failing is good because then you can learn from your mistakes. But art is a subjective field – how do you tell if your work of art is a failure or not? My dealer Mary Boone considers every painting in an artist’s oeuvre to be an essential, even if it seems to come out of left field. Therefore, works of art that “fail” in fact are often stepping-stones to some of an artist’s best works.

That may be true, but one of my unconventional techniques to “clear my head” and develop high quality new work has been – quite simply – to throw things away. Years ago, I was living in San Francisco and was working on a painting that I felt wasn’t coalescing. Though I’d spent months on it, I ended up leaving it on a sidewalk. Disposing of it completely left room for me to make my following painting, Shore Leave (2001) which is in the collection of the Whitney Museum. I also threw away another painting I wasn’t happy with in 2000, when I was living in Chelsea. I handed this painting to the porter of my apartment building, and he sad “nice painting” before flinging it in the dumpster. I was sad the painting failed, so I replaced it by painting Iowa Class (2003), in which a sailor stitches her own face after being wounded in the line of duty or perhaps a brawl (a painting I’m really proud of).

Perhaps you don’t need to go to such extreme measures in clearing away the cobwebs. But sometimes bucking the conventional wisdom will allow you to open yourself up to possibility.

Iowa Class, 14 x 22 inches, oil/linen, 2003, Mary Boone Gallery

Shore Leave, 12 x 15.7 inches, oil on panel, 2001
Yours very truly,
Hilary Harkness

1 comment:

  1. that black couch looks really nice!