The Art of Failure: The Importance of Risk and Experimentation

2014, Number 4

Cover of NEA Arts No 4 2014
About this issue: 

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
—Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

In the sciences, the concept of failure is a natural part of experimentation. If you want to learn how a process works, or develop a new one yourself, the scientific method demands that you try, fail, and try again.

But in the arts, failure is often seen as a dirty word—no one wants to be responsible for a critical or commercial flop. But without taking risk and pushing boundaries, art would remain stagnant, and the creative spirit would be wasted on our own fears. As filmmaker George Lucas said in a 2013 interview for our Art Works Blog, “If you’re creating things, you’re doing things that have a high potential for failure, especially if you’re doing things that haven’t been done before. And you learn from those things… [F]ailure is another word for experience.”

In this issue of NEA Arts, we’ll speak with individual artists, entrepreneurs, and critics about their relationship with failure. Told as edited, first-person musings, these pieces offer personal insights into the fear of failure, whether failure can be helpful to the creative process, and how failure, either real or imagined, has contributed to current success. Taken together, these voices show that maybe—just maybe—failure isn’t such a dirty word after all.

Cover Credit: 

Cover photo by Don Ball.