Failure and the Power of Believing.

“Against the Tide” by Bill Farnsworth


This is a word that makes people cringe and we all try to avoid the dreaded act. Our society is built on those who succeed and those who fell short and failed. Yet failure is part of the journey to becoming a better artist. Be kind to yourself in knowing that you succeeded at the first step. TRYING.

There’s an old golf saying that goes something like this, “You miss 100% of shots you never take”. Many people who would like to take a painting class or workshop never do for fear of looking foolish. To all those who feel this way, stop it! Take a chance, get your feet wet, and throw caution to the wind. Did I miss any other old trite sayings?

Everyone starts at the beginning and there are no short cuts to getting better as an artist. We can be taught the principals of painting and it may not come out of your brush for a while. You need the time of practice, which will yield failure after failure until the pile of bad paintings shrinks and the pile of good paintings grows.

Let me be clear, THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS.

All your failed paintings were valuable learning experiences. If you have a painting that is not going well, wipe it out and start again. You will find that your next start will be much better because you learned something. My students that progress the fastest have an attitude that their painting is an exercise and not a precious master piece. I watched Bill Anton paint a demo that was a beauty and at the end he wiped it out, to the groan of 600 people. He said this was just an exercise. As it sunk in, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Your painting journey will have many failures until the jewel comes to the surface and will erase 100 bad paintings.

The Power of believing;

The most incredible achievements known to man would not have been possible without the dedication of having faith they would prevail. A career in art is a hard climb with many road blocks that often lead most to taking another path. It is not a career you can successfully do without very hard work and sacrifice. There are many artists that are starting late in life these days and are finding it tough. Even the artists who have been in the business for years still are working very hard.

I know this doesn’t sound like a good intro to motivational speaking, but the good part is coming. There is no other way than total dedication to achieve success in any endeavor.

Orville and Wilbur Wright had this idea of manned flight. They faced enormous odds with trying to break the code of lift and drag. No one thought it was possible and even the Wright’s themselves had doubts. Through countless trials that risked their lives every time they took to the air, the Wright Brothers finally achieved sustained flight.

John Singer Sargent was commissioned to paint a Parisian socialite that he had hoped would have catapulted his career in Paris. He painted his client with a fallen strap and the critics were brutal. His client who had loved the painting was now attacking him. Most artists would have been ruined, but Sargent had faith in his abilities and left Paris for London with his painting “Madame X” to further his career. We all know how that turned out.

There is a gleaming common thread with successful artists and it’s not talent. It is the unrelenting faith they have deep in their gut. Where does this come from? We all should believe in something, whether it is Jesus, Allah, Buddha, the moon, sun, or even just a rock. But the most important is believing in yourself.

Nothing of substance comes easy, and your failures are the steps you must climb and your belief is the vehicle.

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  • Maryanne Jacobsen

    Thanks so much, Bill. As one of those artists that started late in life, I not only struggle with time running short, but with lack of energy, terrible eyesight, bad knees and feet (from ballet) and other typical old age syndromes that wouldn’t typically bother a person who doesn’t paint. Yet, I awake each day knowing that I have something to look forward to, or at least hope for- that yet unpainted masterpiece.

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Thanks Maryanne,

  • Sherry Mason

    There is truth in so much of your article. Your last paragraph saddens me, however. I’d rather have faith and believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ our LORD than in any of those dead objects you listed. He is the only one you listed that is ALIVE!

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Sherry my point was that people have many faiths and that having faith in ones self is important as well. Everyone is different. Thanks for posting.

  • Terre K Ritchie

    When I have paintings that fail I put them next to ones that have been a success. What’s the difference here? Every single time it’s the same answers. 1. I didn’t take time to lay the right foundation. 2. I didn’t do a value study. 3. I was rushed. (Mostly my fault for letting other ‘things’ creep in). 4. I wasn’t fully engaged with the subject matter, whether it was a portrait or a landscape, in studio or Plein Air. 5. I didn’t take the painting seriously.
    Case-in-point: what if I looked at every Plein Air painting not as a study but as a finished masterpiece? I hadn’t been looking at it as finished, just as a color and placement reference. How stupid was that? Another in a long list of things I’ve learned about successes and failures.

    • Bill

      Thanks Terre,
      I guess that before we can correct a mistake we have to see it first. And thats a changing thing as we grow.
      Happy painting.

  • Nancie King Mertz

    GREAT article, Bill! I’m sharing it via email with my class that just ended. So many START painting when they retire and get frustrated when they don’t get the same results as the instructor, as you know. Your wise words are just what they need to keep with it!

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Thanks Nancie,
      Yes, there are a lot of retirees picking a brush these days and can get very frustrated because they might think if the instructor makes it look easy then they should able to do it.
      Sometimes the best lesson is seeing my mistakes in a demo.
      If they can see my mistakes they should be able to see their own.

  • Johan Bjurman

    Nice article Bill, I like the idea of failing as a teacher then an end in it’s self. The courage to wipe out what you have done. I think builds your confidence to know you can do another. Perhaps surprise yourself with a better one. “The agony of defeat the thrill of victory.” (Wide World of Sports) in reverse.

    • Guenevere Schwien

      I had a teacher that said you just have to make the bad paintings to get them out of the way so the good ones can come.

      • Bill Farnsworth

        I like that one Guenevere! Thanks.

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Thanks Johan!
      It’s a journey with peaks and Valleys.

  • E Melinda Morrison

    That was so honest and well-spoken, Bill! I started later in life (my forties) and because of that, I was driven to increase my technical skills and learn the art of painting. But you are correct, there are no short cuts! There is a point in one’s career where you have to believe in yourself as an artist, but it’s a delicate balance as I do not believe we ever “arrive.” A belief in oneself means the rejection is just a fulcrum for doing what it takes to get better at your skill. But, I will say, I do a lot of praying at my easel:)

    • Bill

      Thanks Melinda,
      Well said. We paint when our lives are ready for it.

  • Judith Ginn Beauford

    A drawing mentor of mine says this: “The answer is on the next sheet of paper (or the next canvas).”

    This mentor is a staunch believer in daily drawing “training,” which makes a nice coincidence that I also have a creativity meditation audio that states, “Failure IS Training.”

    I started fairly late at painting (mid-30’s then quit, then started again late 40’s) and consider myself a firm intermediate so far. I am committed to accuracy, competency as well as exploration in my work, and I am confident I’ll get there eventually. My confidence is high, although it’s a challenge to put myself in the company of more accomplished artists when I know my skills are still developing. I guess I do believe in my future as an oil painter.

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Thank you Judith.

  • Guenevere Schwien

    Excellent post! I really enjoyed the golf wisdom, and your closing remark about talent. That struck me the most, that no matter what anyone else thinks about your talent, if you believe you have something of value then the rest of the world will start to see that as well. As long as you keep telling them long enough.

    • Bill Farnsworth

      It’s important to believe in yourself but you must also see your mistakes in order to grow and that’s different in everyone.

  • Beatrice Reeder

    Oh my, such a beautiful message for all of us. Thank You!!!!

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Thanks Beatrice!

  • Santiago E. Perez

    THis was the vitamin we alll needed to hear. We forget we’re not there yet and beat ourselves up really bad even stop creating art for a while because we feel we weren’t up to par with so and so and we sometimes forget the thousands of hours they put in. It has to be a burning desire inside that will fuel you through and even when you don’t feel like it, keep pushing through. Thanks again!

    • Bill Farnsworth

      Thanks Santiago !
      There are so many artists who give up because it’s so frustrating, but one little spark can be life changing.