Kicking Failure in the Face
Feralcat, one of our three BTARs for the 2022-23 season, shares his feelings about failure in relation to his time as an artist in his first blog post on his residency.
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I had come to the realization recently that I do not, in reality, know how to fail well.
I feel like that’s something of a redundancy because failure isn’t really something you’re supposed to do “well.” In fact, I’d argue it’s the one thing that is inherently and intentionally understood as bad.
My career in music has had several highs and lows. The one constant, however, is that I am lauded for my capabilities as a musician and a songwriter. While I am proud of my accomplishments, I say this with no hubris. I feel as though universal praise, especially in a closed-circuit ecosystem like Pittsburgh, has been more of a curse than a blessing.
I wish I got more feedback as a whole on the work that I made. Especially early on, when the guidance of elders and local music staples could’ve shaped my growth positively. I get a sting every time someone in Pittsburgh says a work of art is “great,” because it can mean something or it can not. Depending on the mouthpiece for the feedback, the praise can of course be genuine. Alternatively, it can be a defense mechanism, within which an artist can hide their true feelings in an attempt to secure good standing. Good favor that in turn becomes future opportunities.
I can’t fault most artists for their sometimes undeserved praise; it’s ultimately about survival. If I am known as someone who openly gives critique to works that are locally praised, then I will potentially assume a negative reputation.
I am guilty of this myself. Unless you specifically request criticism, I am naught to give you any. I don’t enjoy unsolicited advice, and thus do not dish it out. I am also deathly afraid of losing a connection through some critique I give; I never wish to invalidate an artist’s work or progress.
My point, as it relates back to failure, is that I have become so accustomed to positive feedback, that I have grown a complex. In my head, it is as though I am no longer allowed to produce something that isn’t of the highest quality or deserving of the highest praise. This feeling, accompanied by my own feelings of imposter syndrome, hinders progress tremendously.
I haven’t written nearly as much music as I have been used to writing. I haven’t created completed works with the same tenacity, focus, or thrill that I would have a year or more ago. Part of this is my attention split between different artistic disciplines, including indie video game development and graphic design. The other, more menacing part of this shift, is paralysis. I can start works, but am shrouded by the dark cloud of my prior accomplishments and leave most of my projects unfinished. I have too many ideas but haven’t completed enough of them.
My current solution is to try and add more regiment to my schedule. Adding time that is intended for play, but also for completing projects that require additional time and attention. I don’t know if it’ll pan out, but I am unhappy with my music this year. Maybe it’s best to finish works and let them be exactly what they are. Whether a song is good or bad in my eyes, at least it’ll exist at its full capacity, rather than in my drafts folder.
I wish to allow failure. My expectations for myself haven’t changed, so it’ll still hurt/sting if the song isn’t as great as I could make it.
But at least I’ll have tried.