The fear of Failure
For context, this is about the learning process. Most of us find it painful and scary to learn new things. I am talking about the fear that you can’t do what you expect yourself to be able to do, to be a failure. I only talk from my experience and thoughts. Concepts might be a repeat from things all over the internet.
I have a lot of interests and skills I want to learn. After a couple weeks or days trying to learn something, I would usually give up and move on to the next interest. The main reason is the frustration of not being able to do what you want immediately. If you’re trying to draw a face, the other eye doesn’t look right, when singing you sound like a dying goat, etc. This is the cycle that I was in for the longest time.
The moment this cycle was broken was when I decided to be better at art. ‘Getting better’ is a vague goal, I didn’t necessarily know where to start, but I did. I started with faces, then anatomy, and all other aspects of creating a good image. What’s interesting is that a new cycle replaced the old one, but they are similar. As I was learning different aspects of art, I did not master one and moved on to the next. I learned a little bit of information about it, then to the next one. Instead of changing interests or skills, I kept myself within the domain of art. All the little things I learned helped me to be ‘better’.
For a time, that is all I did. I was improving but not at the rate I wanted. The next step I took is to add structure to my efforts. First is to set a specific goal, learn about it with resources available, take notes, apply what I learn on the next drawing or painting, evaluate, repeat. While doing this, I am emotionally detached. My art does not represent my whole being. If I see something bad in my work, I point it out. Take notes about what I would like to improve. They will be my future goals.
At the learning step, I pay attention. Sometimes, explanations of concepts can be very abstract. I would never draw while I am watching a lecture. Watch, listen, and observe. How an image is created is as important as how it looks finished (if you’re trying to learn). Maybe the missing information I need is how the marks are made, or the sequence they are done. I take notes of new or important information from the resources I consume. I use my notes when I try out what I learned. I know it’s tempting to make a ‘mental note’, that doesn’t work so well, at least for me. Other thoughts unrelated to my goals will distract and make me forget. That would be a waste of time, to be safe, I write notes.
Real learning happens when I use what I learned on a new drawing. I used to start drawing how I always draw then I draw with the new information in mind. You can use the first drawing to compare the art with and without the new information. This takes longer so I usually just do the latter, I have enough bad attempts to compare my new drawings to. I compare and evaluate my new drawing, most of the time, it’s better than my past attempts. But I try to be specific on how the old one is worse, and which aspects of the new drawing need improvement. For the next drawings, they will be the focus.
Also, I ask questions. When something doesn’t look right, I ask why and try to find the answer. If I follow a process blindly and the result looks good, I want to know what makes it work. I don’t get answers most of the time, or the ones I get I don’t understand. But when I do find and understand the answer, I will never forget. Still, to be safe, I will write notes.
For example, currently I am practicing using perspective. I know most of the theory but most of my art lacks a feeling of space. While working on this image, I was constantly bothered by something. I didn’t know what, but I knew it had something to do with perspective. The top of the mirror didn’t follow the grid properly, the image felt better when I fixed it. See the before and after.
The change is very small, but it makes the image way better than before. Still not the best it could be, there’s a lot of room for improvement. I am still proud of this piece. I applied my perspective knowledge, which was my goal. I asked myself why the first image felt weird and I found the answer. It feels good to be able to do so.
The satisfaction of making a better image is my antidote to the fear of learning new things. I am willing to be frustrated at my incapability, my lack of skill and knowledge. It will be challenging, the better images I will create makes it all worth it.
It’s okay to not be perfect. In a learning environment, nobody is expecting perfection from us. Try as many times you as need to learn something. No judgement. If you need, do your learning in isolation or with a small group you trust. As Steven Zapata said, “It’s not about you, it’s about the art.” Good critiques are not about you, and
How to study by Anthony Jones also helped me and might help you too.