Confession of Failed Art

Fail This past week I relearned a lesson in not ignoring the "small" stuff. You know, the stuff that you do all the time so you tend to not give it as much attention or care. I set out to do a watercolor painting based on an interesting photo I found on the internet. I took this to my weekly class, as I thought it would be good to have some guidance and support in rendering the extreme shadows (just in case).

My issue became that I just plain rushed the drawing part because I was so concerned about getting the extreme dark and shadows right. I didn't take the proper time to set myself up for success in this project. I rushed and was lazy with LOOKING at my source properly. As a result, when I started painting, things were just "off". No matter how hard I tried to "fix" areas, there was no turing back at this point. I could either commit to finish it as best I could, or scrap it and start over. I didn't have the motivation to start over, and although I wasn't pleased with my results, I pushed myself to finish. When I did, I was missing that satisfied feeling. I felt rather depressed and left myself open to those critical voices that are always looking for an opportunity to tell you that you aren't any good (and here was proof).

But instead of wallowing in my dissatisfaction, I determined to do as I have everyday in the past 10 months - to post it publicly as part of my year of daily drawings/paintings. I reminded myself that tomorrow was another day to create fresh. And I didn't allow myself to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". I asked myself questions: Why did it "fail"? What made it a lesser piece of art? How could I learn from this rather than just feel bad? Sometimes you need those experiences to learn and grow as much as the momentum of doing great work. I know you're wondering what painting I'm referring to, so to satisfy your curiosity look here.

How do you handle your moments of "failure" and dissatisfaction with your creations? Maybe there's a learning opportunity there for you too.


Did the Church Fail Van Gogh?

The Church at Auvers I've been on a Van Gogh journey for a little over a year now. I realize that as an artist, it's almost cliche to like him. Some might scoff, he's not "indie" enough to like. But I really do appreciate not only his work, but more recently, exploring his story. I have watched several films about his life (most not very good BTW, but I did like Lust for LIfe starring Kirk Douglas & Leonard Nimoy's one man show of Vincent). I have also started reading his biography Van Gogh: The Life (but truth be told I'm finding it a little dense reading).

Something I never heard about Van Gogh in my Art school years was that he was actually in the ministry. As an Artist and Christ follower, my faith has always been an integral part of my work (not always in theme but sometimes in attitude and work ethic). So this particular part of Van Gogh's story was intriguing to me. (Not to mention that I used to hold a pastoral position myself.)

Van Gogh... taught in a Methodist boys' school, and also preached to the congregation. Although raised in a religious family, it wasn't until this time that he seriously began to consider devoting his life to the church. Hoping to become a minister, he prepared to take the entrance exam to the School of Theology in Amsterdam. After a year of studying diligently, he refused to take the Latin exams, calling Latin a "dead language" of poor people, and was subsequently denied entrance. The same thing happened at the Church of Belgium: In the winter of 1878, van Gogh volunteered to move to an impoverished coal mine in the south of Belgium, a place where preachers were usually sent as punishment. He preached and ministered to the sick, and also drew pictures of the miners and their families, who called him "Christ of the Coal Mines." The evangelical committees were not as pleased. They disagreed with van Gogh's lifestyle, which had begun to take on a tone of martyrdom. They refused to renew van Gogh's contract, and he was forced to find another occupation.


Van Gogh's relationship with the Church was rocky for sure. He was a rebel. Stubborn. He didn't play by the rules. The life he wanted to lead didn't match the code the Church demanded for him. Did you catch this: The evangelical committees were not as pleased. (Ah, yes the "Committees".) So, they fired him.

Did the Church fail Van Gogh or did Van Gogh fail the Church? Perhaps both. Van Gogh's life and story is fraught with strife and struggle. He was far from perfect. But the same goes for the Church. It's very complicated and I don't mean to skim surface issues to reach my own conclusions, but it made me wonder what would have happened if Van Gogh never left ministry. Would the world ever know his name or his art?

Van Gogh's life and story prompts me to consider a few things further: What can Artists who are Christians learn from his story and interaction with the Church? What can the Church learn about Artists and how to help them find their place in the Church?

{Image: Van Gogh's The Church at Auvers}