The Art of Failure: An Interview with Artist, Ryan Crawley

My failures have provided more fruits than my successes.
— Ryan Crawley

In art and in life, failure is inevitable. Sometimes, when we're creatively stuck, it can seem like we've failed. When we have to let something go, it can seem like we've failed. When we have to change directions, it can seem like we've failed.

I interviewed artist Ryan Crawley about his experience with failure, and how he decided to shift his art-making process to promote creative movement. This is his story:

Ryan: "I had been painting cityscapes, but the process and final products became stagnant to me. I tried changing the color scheme, but it was starting to lack inspiration as well."

Monica: "What did the stagnancy feel like?"

Ryan: "It was like leaving fruit on the table and watching it start to wither. It was like pond water - a nice layer of scum on the top surface with beautiful murky underlying water. I kept wondering, 'Is this all I have left to paint?' It killed the joy of wanting to paint."

Monica: "While the stagnancy was happening, did you have any fears/anxieties about what this meant for your career?"

R: "Mainly the fear in the fact that I didn't have another level with my work. It felt like I had nothing left to offer, artistically. I started down a path of self doubt, and it was hard to climb out of that hole. My art career definitely took a hard stop during that time. I think it was important because I had to re-evaluate myself and my work in the matter of why I was doing/creating it."

M: "So what answers came to you? Why were you creating? What did you realize about yourself when you reevaluated?"

R: "Mainly that my art is not about the finished project. It's about my the layers/journey of the piece. I'm creating because it helps me understand external problems in a nonverbal way. Being stuck made me realize I need to continue to push myself to make new work as much as I can."

M: "So when you were stuck on the cityscapes you were focusing on the product, and when you let yourself just focus on the process, what happened?"

R: "To be honest I'm not sure much did happen. It was almost like flipping a light switch and not having the light not turn on. Realizing it was about the process was a step back into why art was fun/interesting in the first place. It takes a lot to realize that what you've done in the past is setting you up for something beautiful in the future."

M: "It sounds like a lot happened! Coming back to that place of pure enjoyment is pretty powerful, because it's so easily lost in the creative process. When you say that the light didn't turn on, what do you mean?"

R: "I mean I didn't need anything new or exciting to happen. I needed only to paint. Good bad ugly indifferent, I had to paint. That in itself turned me around. So nothing changed really except the fact that I found painting makes me happy."

M: "I can so relate to that. It's so easy to think we have to do more, try more, and strive toward an end goal.. when really it's about the process, and just trusting the process. Was this around the time you recommitted to making a business out of your art making? Tell me more about how you came to that decision."

R: "I realized that spending money on a project makes me work harder. Enter a paid website. I figure I can learn to create my website but also have that motivating me like 'Hey, you're paying for this.' That's what helped awaken the drive to continue with creating new works."

M: "What made you decide to get serious about selling your artwork?"

R: "I think it was an inner self belief. I already knew it was possible for me to make money from my artwork. As for being serious about selling it, I'd have to say it's more me realizing that improvement for myself is my own journey. I've finally accepted the invitation."

M: "I love that. The invitation is always there, it's up to us to accept it. So, If you could give one piece of advice to creatives who want to make a business out of their creative talents, what would it be?"

R: "Stop making an excuse that there's something you need to wait for. Get to it and start doing. A start up is just that - the start. Allow yourself to keep moving towards the finish line. It’s a marathon not a sprint!"

About the artist: Ryan is a BFA artist that "needed real life to hit [him] in the face." He graduated from Western Michigan University with an emphasis in painting in 2010, and has shown his work locally, nationally, and internationally. Ryan discovered his passion for art while creating comic books with his older brother; he combines his love for line with his curiosity in color to create his bold, dynamic paintings.

Ryan's website | Facebook | Instagram