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Some Thoughts on Failure

A girls sits with her head and arms draped over a music stand in front of her, her hair falling completely over, her face obscured. A man sits across from her looking confused.
In the rehearsal room for Kimber Lee's TO THE YELLOW HOUSE

The apprentices and I convene once every week for "Artist Hour", a meeting where apprentices invite and speak with industry leaders, artists, and professionals over lunch about their careers, the theater, and the creative process. We recently had an Artist Hour with Kimber Lee, playwright of to the yellow house, which received a Studio Retreat at The Lark last season, and we talked candidly about failure, a reality van Gogh contends with in her play. And one artists the world over face continually. The play is an exploration on the latter years of Vincent van Gogh’s life as a failing artist and meditates on the question, “At what point in an endless cycle of failures does faith and persistence become delusion and foolishness?" We reflected on the answers, which seemed slippery. We pushed ideas around the room in search of respite, acknowledged pain spent ruminating on and navigating failure, and created a space to grapple toward answers, or peace in the absence of any. Like van Gogh, we squarely faced the reasoning behind our dogged persistence as artists. What keeps us going in the thick of failure? How much failure is too much failure? Is there such a thing?  

I’m still left with the ache of this question. What is the answer? I need one. My need for control needs one. My need to know how things will pan out perhaps needs one more, but maybe this dearth of answers is the answer, because there isn’t just one. Maybe we create our own. Maybe we don’t get a thumbs up or down for what we do and we do it because we must. We get up regardless of the injury because this is what we are called toward or because it is the only thing we can do and we don’t have a choice. Or maybe like van Gogh, our art is healing, grounding, a necessary relief from an otherwise unbearable existence and places us in the midst of sanity. Or whatever we define as sanity. We do this to stay sane. I like that answer.

This article also appeared in the May edition of Lark's Monthly Newsletter, "A Bird's Eye View." To get more pieces like this straight to your inbox, sign up for The Lark's mailing list here!