Have you ever spent a long time working on a picture, a piece of music or an article and then arrived at the conclusion that what you have produced is crap? It’s art gone wrong.

All that time wasted. You’ve toiled away, doing your best and the result of your effort just doesn’t make the grade.

You are now left with the horrible realisation that you’ll just have to throw it away.

But do you? Is it all a waste? Is there anything that can be salvaged?


Can you see it in a different way?

Recently I went to Edinburgh with a group of artists for the opening of a show. Whilst chatting over a glass of bubbly I heard a really good tip. One of the artists recalled her teacher in Paris who told her that if she was in the situation above, take a piece of A4 paper, cut a small square into it and then look at her painting through the square. She was told to go over all of the painting, looking through the square and she might find a section of the painting that pops or is good and pleasing.

Then she could cut out this section from the canvas, frame it and then sell it.

I loved this tip. It tells us two things.

Firstly, if you look at something in a different way it might not be as bad as you think. You will see good elements that have vindicated that it was worth your effort.

Secondly, there is always something to salvage from something bad. Your efforts are never wasted.

Even though I am a writer I still think this is a good tip. If I have managed to achieve a lousy piece of writing then there may be nuggets of good in it that I can use elsewhere. Maybe the article sucked but I hit upon something else that would make a good blog post. Maybe the chapter sucked but there is a kernel of an idea on it that would make a good short story. Maybe a section of a novel rambles off the point a bit too much but it is useful backstory that I need to know about one of my characters.


Nothing is ever wasted

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that nothing is ever wasted.

I am a qualified chartered accountant. Every year for over twenty five years I have paid my membership fee to the ICAEW (about £300) and this annual direct debit goes out of my account on the 2nd January.  This is absolute worst time of the year to have a chunk of money, which I always forget about, disappear from my account.

For many years I thought about cancelling my membership. I don’t work as an accountant. It’s nice to have the letters ACA after my name but the only thing I do with them is sign people’s passport photos!

And then I started life-coaching. Those three little letters, ACA, differentiated me from most of the life coaches in the market. I was immediately elevated from the ranks of someone who might be a tree-hugger to someone who knew about business and had worked in the proper corporate world. Clients came to me because of this.

All of your life experience can be relevant to your art. All of your mistakes can be relevant to your next piece of art.


Learn from your mistakes

When a piece of art doesn’t turn out as you expect, there is always a benefit. Firstly, celebrate the fact that you worked diligently and produced something in the first place. This puts you streets ahead of people who are still “thinking about it.”

Secondly, everything we do in our respective creative realms is a learning experience. At the very least you have learnt how not to do something! Seek feedback from someone else if necessary. It might be that you feel that something isn’t quite right, or it doesn’t ring true but you can’t figure out why. Someone with more experience, or just an outside perspective, might be able to tell you exactly what is wrong.


Don’t harangue yourself for making mistakes. Learn from them and move on. If necessary use the mistake as a study and do something else which deliberately uses that technique. Master it. Make it part of your skills vocabulary so that you can call on it, in a natural way, when required.


You might also like this blog: Why you should aim to make lots of crap art


Over to you

What do you do when you have “art gone wrong” syndrome? Do you salvage the art? Most importantly, how do you salvage yourself? Share your best stories of disaster in the comments.


Next Steps

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