The Importance of Failure for an Artist

On the first day of orientation my freshman year at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago I was told I was going to fail. Often. And no, it wasn't by rude classmates, jealous strangers, or someone who thought I didn't deserve this opportunity - it was by Walter Massey, the president of my new college. As an already nervous freshman who hadn't been to school before college, this was a pretty alarming thing to hear - but with time and understanding of what it takes to be an artist, the desire to fail grew a valuable place in my practice.

When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.
— Ellen DeGeneres

Freshman year orientation was the first, but absolutely not the last time I was told I was going to fail as an artist. I was told by professors, world renowned artists in lectures, and through first hand experience while desperately trying to create something amazing. Failure is a valuable tool in an artist's career - in every project I've created, the first few prototypes were terrible. Almost all of my freshman year projects are hidden in a box in my studio that I'll likely never open from embarrassment - none of them are up to par with what I'm currently doing, or how I'd hoped they would turn out. But it was important as hell for me to create them.

Without the overly dramatic self portraits I took in my second semester that included text I'd sourced from hardcore music (yikes), I wouldn't have discovered my love of words to bring emotion to an image. Without reproducing similar work over and over again and frustrating my teachers and myself, I wouldn't have discovered how little I wanted to pursue a career in trying to get into galleries where I didn't feel I fit in, and instead found a love for empowering everyday women through photography. Without taking videos interviewing local punk bands for a project that never worked out, I wouldn't have found out how much I love featuring and getting to know other artists, and the Inspired Chicago feature series would of never happened.

Think about it - if your plans worked out perfectly each time, then what would you have to strive for? What would happen to your motivation? What if there was a better, more effective, or inspiring version of your project that you just haven't figured out yet, because your first version worked out fine? What could you be missing by only following the success and hiding the failures?

Embrace the failure. Wallow on the floor for awhile, but then get back up and try again.


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Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.