Sunday, April 16, 2006

Artists Learn To Live With Disappointment, How To Lessen The Impact Of Setbacks

One of the realities of being an artist is that we take risks with our art and often fail in the process. Sometimes things go wrong with the techniques we are using and sometimes we bring failure on ourselves. We imagine making a beautiful piece that will only take a few minutes, which we begin and it ends up taking weeks. Our studio has many projects in the half-finished stage. We had planned to finish that project right away, but it took more time and as we let time pass, the project takes even longer.

We started one project and jumped right in and cut all the glass for one third of a three panel window. It only took a couple of days. Then we got side tracked by another job with a more pressing deadline. We set the three panel project aside and worked on the new project. Then another project was ordered. It was a couple of months by the time we got back to the three panel project. We had to get it out of storage and clean off all the dust that had gathered on it. Then we started foiling it. There were a couple of pieces that needed to be fixed and we had to research what the colors were supposed to be because by that time, we’d forgotten a lot of the details of the window. We got the thing foiled and then soldered one side of the panel and ran out of time. We had to complete another project, so once again, the three panel project went back into storage. When we got back to it, it needed to be cleaned again, which used up valuable time. And something was happening to us mentally, since we had put off the project so long, we found it easy to put off again. We struggled with color choices, cleanliness issues and direction that “grain” should run through the window, all things that take care of themselves when we complete a window in a timely manner. Finally we just stayed on to the end and completed the panel. It was easy once we dedicated ourselves to the task.

When we started experimenting with hot glass and firing plates in our kiln, we struggled for a long time. We would fire a piece of glass for use on a plate and get bubbles in it and that would be a setback. We’d have to study to figure out what happened and then overcome the fear of failure enough to try another piece. Then we would fire a piece and it would be perfect except for the fact that it broke. Time after time, we experimented with temperatures and glass mixes. And with each failure, we learned more, but we had to fight to continue to try again and again.

Finally, there is the type of failure and disaster that comes in our art by just plain dumb luck, (bad luck). You’re just finishing a panel, nailing on the outer metal to a piece of glass and your hammer slips and breaks a piece of the panel. It’s really no big deal, but now you have to de-solder the piece of glass, cut a new one and solder it in, just to get back to where you were before the mistake happened. This type of accident happens occasionally and isn’t too hard to recover from. It’s the other mishaps that occur that are especially difficult to deal with. When a glass insulator or installer breaks a piece of glass for you, it’s tough to deal with, especially when you hand carried it to them, warned them of weaknesses and begged them to be careful. The worst accidental break is when you don’t tie down the load securely enough or someone trips on an install, or any number of accidents that end up with severe damage. You may just want to go to bed for a week and fins a nice comfortable job in a pillow factory.

So what do we do to fight against despair?

In the first place, determine that once you start a project, you’ll finish it right away. Plan ahead so you’ll be sure to have the time to complete the work in your schedule, then start the work and stay with it till it’s done. This will save so much time in the long run that it will become even easier to stay on schedule because you’ll be saving all that time doing steps over and over again.

Second, when you start learning a new technique or process, take a class. We could have saved ourselves a lot of time and failure by enrolling in a class with a qualified instructor and learning some of the pitfalls to avoid. Instead, we tried to learn by reading a book and doing it on our own.

Third, attack any problem head on. If you break a piece of glass, fix it immediately. If it breaks again, fix it again. Leaving it till later will only make it worse. And when the damage is really bad, try to assess which method you’ll use to repair the damage. Will you fix the broken pieces or rebuild the whole thing? We once spent a month and a half repairing a window, which only took two weeks to build in the first place. We would have been time and materials ahead to have just started over on that project, not to mention the fact that it meant we had to suffer five weeks with our mistake rather than two.

My students sometime tire from hearing me say that “the difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional will fix their mistakes.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, a true professional will also fix their mistakes quickly.

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