Painting by David L. Jones
"Gentlemen – It is always pleasant to be right, but it is generally a much more useful thing to be wrong,"
This quote is a response to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes whose many failures are used throughout the book to illustrate their use in eliminating theories or conflicting ideas and in some cases solving the mysteries. Sherlock sees the immense value of failures as the end to a path or train of thought. If your idea does fail, how gratifying is it that the trail is over? You no longer have to work on that problem, its found it's resolution.
When a failure happens you have also discovered something that doesn't work in this situation, which means you are now free to explore the next course of action, the next idea, the next work of art. The failure also provides you with a context (it might be a small context but there is always one) or some ideas on how not to let the same mistake occur again, which is not only time saving, it is life saving (especially in the arts).
I think this message was only truly learned after taking David Jones' expressive mark making course. The mistakes we make in art are rabbit holes we can travel down with the expressed purpose of discovering our personal voices and styles. When you start allowing "mistakes" in your work, you are opening up a dialogue between the piece and your train of thought. You are allowed the ability to respond to what initially may have been a mistake, creating an interaction that grows into a visual conversation in a work of art. With this comes the knowledge of understanding which mistakes can be transformed into successes, as some mistakes are still mistakes, but we can still learn from them.
I think if you are making mistakes then you are entirely in the right mindset, the ability to make mistakes means you are experimenting and exploring your art. Artists that do not make mistakes are not stretching themselves enough, they are still stuck in the confines of someone elses rules.
Neil Gaiman makes this point in his "Make Good Art" speech, that it becomes much easier to break the rules, if you are unaware of their existence. I know a lot of times my hand stalls or I falter in my work because I am afraid of some preconceived notion or rule that I think I might break (most of the time they are of my own invention).
Sometimes having a drawing or painting or anything fail frees you to have fun, or take out your frustration (A LOT OF FRUSTRATION some times) on the piece, and in those moments you can create a truly beautiful representation of a moment in time. I have those moments peppered throughout many of my sketchbooks, that deep dark pen mark that almost scratches through the paper you are pressing to hard on it to remove any evidence of the failure beneath. When you press so hard it creates a texture on the next page and basically makes the next page unusable.
What I am after is to remind you to become a detective in your work, to recognize your mistakes and learn from them. Figure out when they end and discern the elements that lead you to failure and the elements that you can take from the mistakes. Observe the shortcoming and solve the issue!
Here is a link to the article that sparked this.