Sunday, August 29, 2010

Discouraging and Exhilarating

Sorry I haven't been posting much. Over the past month or so I've been wrestling with a subject that has always held an incredible fascination and intimidation for me: I've been trying to learn about color and how to paint.

When I first started out artistically, I was determined to be an animator. So I put all my energy and focus into learning the art of drawing and all the challenges that come with animating. And I was hesitant to jump into learning about color and all that comes with seemed overwhelming, and I figured that I should concentrate on learning how to draw first and foremost.

As artists (and people), we want to avoid those things that are especially daunting or intimidating. Once we gain a bit of ability at something, it is easy to talk yourself out of working on your weaknesses. We know it's bound to be frustrating and that we will fail a lot before we ever begin to succeed. So why put our fragile confidence at risk by challenging ourselves?

But we must. Otherwise we become like an artist who cannot draw hands, so he finds himself constantly struggling to compose all of his pictures so that the hands aren't showing. In the end, it would take much less work to just learn how to draw hands.

And there's nothing more exhilarating than a victory over something that you were afraid of and thought you would never conquer! I find lately that I am both frequently discouraged and also exhilarated. I paint at night after work, and frequently find myself heading upstairs to bed feeling frustrated because I have run into some problem that I don't know how to figure out, and wondering if this time I am truly stuck, never to get any further. But in every single instance, by the time I am brushing my teeth two minutes later I have an inkling of a new approach to try, some new wrinkle that may get me through this problem, and let me keep going until I hit the next roadblock. So often within just a few seconds I have gone from discouragement to elation and an excitement about trying out my new idea the next night.

That's a great feeling!

Any success I have ever had in learning about art I have made only by making every single solitary mistake you can ever make. I don't have any natural talent to speak of; I suppose that what I have is a combination of stupidity and stubborness that makes me keep going when a wiser person would stop and spare themselves the aggravation.

Anyway, I've been wanting to write about it but I was hoping for more tangible results to show first. Those haven't come yet so I will just write this post for now. I will talk more about it when there is more to say. As I often tell my kids, you can't really fail as long as you never give up, because as long as you are still trying, you haven't really failed, right?

(If you just rolled your eyes at my corny sentiment you can relate to my long-suffering kids).

Or as Mary Pickford put it: "If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."

Thomas Edison is an expert in the subject of stick-to-it-iveness. Many people before him tried to invent a commercially viable light bulb. But they all gave up, because nobody could figure out a filament material that was suitable. Edison experimented and tried over 6,000 materials before he finally discovered one that would work.

6,000. Think about that! In the middle of all of those experiments, when it seemed he would never figure it out, people told him to give up. They were probably trying to do him a favor and save him from wasting his time. They told him he had failed enough already. But his response was:

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Edison is the poster child for success through perseverance and so his quotes should carry a lot of weight; he knew what he was talking about. So for all of you out there, struggling to expand your knowledge and gain some insight into a part of the world that is not yet illuminated for you, I salute you, and take comfort in knowing that I am toiling away in my own dark corner somewhere! Hopefully you can take some solace and encouragement from these other Edison quotes:

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.

Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.

I find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.

I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.

There is no substitute for hard work.

We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.

What you are will show in what you do.

When I have fully decided that a result is worth getting I go ahead of it and make trial after trial until it comes.

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

His quotes may seem cliched and tired but at least he has the right to say them...he lived as he advised others to live, that's for sure.

In many ways in life it seems that we're not really supposed to talk about our failures and we're not supposed to admit to the things we don't know. I can only imagine that that must be the reason that more artists don't talk too much about the learning curve and the struggles that it takes to become an artist. But rest assured that everyone goes through it, and there's no shame in trying to learn what you don't know. The only shame is when people stop developing because it's uncomfortable, or hard, or intimidating. The times in life when we're uncomfortable, struggling, or intimidated are the times when, looking back, we have learned the most.


Quentin Lebegue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quentin Lebegue said...

Amen to all of these quotes and to this post. Inspiring.

Shoki said...

Great post! It's definitely the case with my experiences, you fail and fail again but if you keep at it the clouds clear and you see a glimpse of the sun.

Jeff Overturf said...

They only seem cliched because they are "trueisms". Trueisms are call that for a reason. :)

Nothing discouraging about these at all. Thanks for sharing!

Daniel Caylor said...

Very inspiring stuff Mark, thank you. Have you read about the darker side of Edison?

matt said...

Thank you for this post, its come coincidentally at a time where i am also pushing hard to improve my skills, so its great to know others out there are putting in the effort also

Robert said...

"We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything."

Similar to William Goldman's quip about the movie biz "No one knows nothing."

It would be interesting to compile all the famous quotes about people not knowing things.

Anonymous said...

good God. in your hands, you have the keys to success.

Alex Grigg said...

Really Inspiring mark! One of the reasons I've always loved studying/working in animation is that there is no perceivable end to the progress you can make as an artist. Its so great to hear even someone as experienced as you is still striving and learning.

David Beer said...

'Discontent is the first necessity of progress. '

dude, i am so dealing with this musically, at the moment

valerie said...

I needed this post right now. Thank you.

Luke Titley said...

This is the most valuable article I have ever read on the internet.

Luke Titley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

To Robert

heres one:

though it was said by a bit of an ignoramous.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments! Glad everyone enjoyed the post...

Quentin - good, I'm glad it was inspiring!

Shoki - yes, well put!

Jeff - I agree about the cliche thing. George Lucas said that cliches are cliches because they're true.

Dan - the "darker" side? Is that a pun, like a light bulb joke? No, seriously, I suppose I may have heard about that kind of stuff but can't remember exactly what I've heard...but in any case, lots of otherwise great men have secret and unsavory elements to their character, George Washington and Jefferson for example. But we can learn from their good sides too, right?

matt- keep at it, I won't give up and so we will both get there! Good luck!

Robert - yeah, I don't know any other quotes like that, but I'm sure there are some good ones.

Anon - thanks. Coincidentally, Edison also said "religion is all bunk".

Alex - yes, always! I firmly believe that if one gives up learning and improving, one should have to give up the label "artist".

David - yep, we are all there at some time or another...keep at it!

valerie - glad it helped, good luck and keep at it!

Luke - Wow, that's a tall compliment, can I quote you?!?

David - Lol, that dude had some great quotes, love his constant refrain: "I serve at the pleasure of the President".

Mar¡! said...

Thanks so much for this post, Mark. I've been struggling with perspective and bakgrounds... I'm scared of them, because of the whole failing. BUT your post is seriously inspirational. Most of all, because I can genuinely relate and I feel it comes from the heart. I'll come back and read it when I'm feeling sad and discouraged.
We get very confused when people say that ideas are just a thing of inspiration; and that great work is derived from talent, not from crappy work after more crappy work.
Picasso once said: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working."
Thanks again!!! :D