A Class of Failures

The text of this submission was generated from a writing assignment about failure that Kendall Buster gave to the Fall 2012 Sculpture Undergraduate Seminar Class.


Failure is a process. It involves points of departure from conventionalized or institutionalized expectations. Failure could not exist without some understanding of what may be considered “successful.” Though both of these terms are very broad, I imagine there is some form of rapport about what both of these terms mean, a generalization. Failure could be understood as a “lack of something.” This something could be, but is not limited to, time, execution, skill, vision or dedication.

A failure is an attempt at something that ultimately doesn’t yield anything overtly positive, useful, or important. Failures themselves can be helpful sometimes though, much like the idea of “learning from your mistakes.” Failures build resilience and mark undesirable methods. In many senses failure has had negative connotations, but in the terms of the art world failure is not negative at all. To make art is to experiment, where you often cannot anticipate the outcome. If we truly are all just “making attempts at art,” is it possible to fail at this experiment? Are we even able to claim failure when we are all constantly reaching for the unobtainable? I feel that as artists we need a relationship with failure that acknowledges its existence, while at the same time not allowing it to paralyze us.

a complete and utter collapse of the initial intention
an erratic fall through
as a catalyst for another successful outcome different than the initial intention
an end
a means
an experience of an endeavor without learning from it.

I’d say that failure has something to do with being human, or maybe everything to do with it: the fallibility of the hand, or the humble fracture under force, a glitch in perfection and a way to move forward.

I would like to say my studio practice revolves around failure but that is not true. My studio practice revolves around trial and error, which I feel is something much different that “Failure.” “Failure” is an all-encompassing term designed for Language, which is used to propel the mind into a limbo between its own ideas of what “Failure” and “Success” are/could be. Specifically speaking about art, any given piece may comprise of multiple failures and successes that amount to some “end product” that can be considered an overall triumph.  This includes some failures on my part due to time management, lack of proficiency with a given material, or problems dealing with outside sources (i.e. getting things printed properly). I only hope that if I fail, it is because I didn’t know when to give up.

I have dozens of ideas for every one I am willing to pursue. Out of those that I do pursue, there are few that I am interested in developing into something I want to present. So in a way, I guess failure, at many levels, is an editing process. I feel like doubt is constantly in the artists mind.

When red bull becomes a big part of my studio practice, that’s when I know I am failing. Things come together last minute. There is a mismanagement of time and sleep.  Sometimes I feel like in art school we are trained to sniff out and exploit each other’s bullshit. So instead of pit-bulls bred for fighting, we are hipsters skilled at Schadenfreud.
Failure encourages me to reevaluate my approach to something, to try to find a better way to execute ideas. I am always failing all over the place. It can be a major setback or the only way to move forward. It’s a frustrating phenomenon that I think I am coming to embrace.


Edited by Ha Tran. Contributors include Zachary Buehler, Colleen Billing, Raven Cole, Maddie Cook, Blake Gatti, Catherine Gellatly, Jennifer Guillen, Julie Hundley, Spencer Erickson, Weston Lowe, Breanne Merritt, Rachel Schneider & Lauren Versino.


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