I’m a Creative Failure at last!

Here’s an interesting story about a boy and my current show The Painted Garden.

The boy – let’s call him Andrew although that is not his real name, has been visiting my studio on and off with his parents since he was about 5 years of age, and now at the grand old age of 11 they are visiting my studio with him; because he has developed a passion for seeing visual art which they are very pleased to facilitate.

Now having seen my previous works (think , dark, moody, clouds and majestic cathedral like forests) Andrew was very surprised to see my current show and wanted to know why I had changed so much? A fair question which I was pleased to answer.

We talked about my work, about what it is to be an artist, but most of all about making the best of the hand one is dealt, by embracing both failure and change, part of which meant I had to touch lightly upon my experience of sudden disability and  illness. To be honest I didn’t expect a child of 11 to ‘get’ this or particularly care, but I was surprised by how much all of this resonated with his experience of education..

Encouraged by his interest I explained that the entire show in the gallery was rooted in my willingness to embrace failure as an essential part of the creative process, and that my sketches for the show were never conceived as definite routes to success, but rather ideas that might – or might not – work .  I may even have said at one point that it was far better, in my opinion, to try and fail than to fail to try; but behind every cliche is a truth waiting to become relevant.

To my delight Andrew asked his parents to purchase one of the sketches to place in his room where he can see it every day and be reminded that success starts with a willingness to fail.

I intend, of course to continue gifting him a sketch each time he visits the studio as I have for years, but he was very clear that he wanted to ‘buy’ this one, and I for one couldn’t be happier that the first piece of Art he has ever purchased  will remind him every day that someone he respected told him it’s OK to fail as long as he tries.

The thing is – and this matters, is that our children are only encouraged to succeed.

‘Failure,’ as they say, ‘is unthinkable’, and that attitude rules the iterative process of creativity out of education. Creativity thrives – indeed it is rooted in – the possibility of providing our children with safe places to fail. All success teaches us is what works now and in this instance; in a changing world that’s a sure and certain road to the sort of structural, national and economic failure we must avoid at all costs.

It’s not my place to bang on about the dangers of imposing targets, rules and curriculums upon young minds, or to point out that as a small nation we must be first and foremost a creative powerhouse rather than a nation of unthinking, productive robots.  However, I worry, I really do that some of our leaders feel that 19th century educational solutions are the appropriate response to a future which even the experts cannot predict.


Sketching is about discovering a visual language for painting such as this study I created in 2015 (above). Many of these studies come to nothing, this one gave me ways of picturing what I wanted though the crucible of previous failures

Hopefully Andrew will have the wisdom to allow himself to fail, and become one of the truly inspirational, creative and adaptable minds we need to steer the UK through the 21st century. To find out more about the benefits of learning to fail in the safe environment of painting, please don’t fail to contact me.


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