Dealing with disaster in your work

Art lovers indulging themselves with an hour wandering round Agora Gallery often comment on the skill and technique shown in the works on display, and wonder about the amount of patience, hard work and dedication it takes to achieve such a level. They’re right, of course, but they might also be surprised to realize that the works they – or any collector – see are the successes; and that even talented, professional artists with years of experience and success behind them still have times when they feel faced with a piece in progress that has turned into a disaster!

Almost all artists experience this from time to time, so don’t let yourself feel abandoned by your muse and picked on by fate. It’s natural to be disappointed – in fact, it’s almost inconceivable that you wouldn’t be upset about it, considering the thought, work and love that artists pour into their works. But don’t lose your perspective. It’s not the end of the world; it’s not even the end of the idea. It’s just one of those times that things didn’t come together they way you’d hoped they would.

Try to see it as a learning experience. OK, so this wasn’t what you wanted. It didn’t work. Why didn’t it? What happened? Was it a problem with concept, execution, materials? Try to pinpoint where the problem lies, and think about how you would prevent it happening in the future.

In this way, what seemed like a tragedy could actually turn into something incredibly valuable for you; a friend of mine once mentioned that the thing which set her on the artistic path that is right for her was exactly this kind of experience. She had been trying hard to get a painting to fit an idea of what it ought to be, and nothing went right. She had to scrap the piece in the end, with all the frustration that wasting time and materials brings, and she felt miserable. She couldn’t think about anything else, so she tried to work out what had gone wrong, and eventually she realized that what she had really wanted, and hadn’t achieved, was a light, free-flowing, graceful feel. Following up on that, she worked out that the medium she’d been trying so hard with was hopeless for that, at least as far as she was concerned. She changed medium, and after a little time spent getting used to it, found that she had just what she’d been looking for all along. She has never looked back.

On the other hand, it could be that you are very close to reaching your goal. Sometimes what feels like a total flop is actually the result of over-reaching yourself just a bit – but what this really means is that you have direction, concept and vision. You just need more practice, or to give it more thought. What you thought was a disaster is actually a sign that you’re getting there; you just need to work out what to do next, to move on to the next step.

When the initial angst has faded, go back to your work and see if it really is as much of a total write-off as you think. It could be that a part of the piece could be salvaged to play a role in another budding creation, or perhaps a detail from it could become the center of a smaller work of art. Even if there’s nothing to be done with the physical aspect of what’s there, take a good look. Color combinations, or juxtapositions of materials, or the development of an idea might all be usefully taken away from the work, to play a role in later art.

Ask someone you trust what they think – they’ll be able to be more objective than you are, since they won’t have to battle the baggage of your disappointment. They’ll see what’s really there, not the contrast between that and what you wanted to see, and their insights may surprise you.

When all that is said and done, move on. Don’t let this drag you down, and don’t waste more time on it. It’s all part of the learning experience – treat it like any other lesson, incorporate what you’ve learned, and start thinking about and working for the next thing.

When was your last ‘art disaster’? What did you do? Share in the comments!


  • Thank you for this “gem”! I am so eclectic in my work that I feel all over the board! I know and I trust with each piece I am gaining a better insight as an artist. I believe it is gearing me towards what is a unique niche for myself. I so needed to have read this today! I believe these types of “nuggets” are meant to reveal themselves when you most need them. Thank you again!

  • As a mosaic artist, when I finish a piece and realize it doesn’t fit the vision I had in my head before I started, I do have a tendency to drag around like a kicked puppy for awhile. The time and expense involved in creating these things is so extreme! But as you suggest, once I can come back and look at it objectively, I learn from it – some pieces more than others, but there is always something I can take away from it!

    Lee Ann

  • Gracias por este valioso articulo. Como artista.He pasado por diferentes etapas.Las crisis nos orientan para descubrir nuevos caminos. Meditar me proporciona armonía mental. Así la inspiración se conecta con la energía divina. Estudiar, observar, analizar. Es una constante búsqueda. Crear es un proceso de investigación, conectado a la intuición. Mil gracias de nuevo por toda la información. Felicitaciones a la excelencia de su galería. Éxitos¡

  • Actually, sometimes my best paintings comes forward beacause of a disaster!
    If I´m finding my pice “worthless” I start to experiment on it, and it sometimes gives me new ideas and even, in fact, lead to that “worthless” painting (I work in watercolors) became a pricwinning one!
    Offcause, many other disaterous paintings still is a disaster after experimenting, but it´s fun to let all boundaries go!

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