We all try to avoid mistakes whenever possible. We even smirk when Siri mistranslates our words. Our striving for perfection in art or writing seems to compel us. Yet art that does exactly what the artist wants it to can also be tiresome and boring. It turns out that your mistakes can make great art.
Missing the Mark
What happens when you shoot for a perfect story or drawing and it just comes out wrong? A good example of this in history is the Athena owl coins from Ancient Greece.
The coin started as a “blank” of silver that was smashed between two molds. Often extra metal would burst out of the sides, creating these irregular edges, no two looking alike. Yet Greek merchants accepted them.
What can we learn from failure? Well, often people have a common idea of how a perfect or ideal object should look. So these failed attempts represent pure originality. You end up with a story or drawing that doesn’t quite work, but can also hold a certain amount of charm.
My favorite quote about failure comes from the Rock: Failure’s not an option, it’s a step. So perhaps your story or drawing failed, but it spurred new ideas and led to something even better.
Mistakes Made on Purpose
Sometimes a beautifully handcrafted object has mistakes built into it — purposely introduced asymmetries or unexpected elements. Why would artists do that?
A good example would be phulkari, a type of folk embroidery form the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Girls learned how to weave silk-thread patterns into cotton cloth from a young age.
Phulkari consists of regular patterns and geometric shapes. Yet, often women added small color changes or a shift in pattern. One reason was to protect the wearer from the evil eye. But sometimes these deliberate alterations marked important events while the textile was being made — such as a death or a birth. The most intricate phulkari can take up to ten years to complete.
As a novelist, it often takes a year or more to work through a single manuscript. Many things happen during that time, and often the writing is colored by the events that transpire. How can we work details into the greater story? Often a certain scene might have its inspiration from events that happened while it was being written. Much like a phulkari, a novel can be a living biography of the writer.