Failure, an art exhibition put on by Portland State’s art and design department, delves into what it means to fail in the scope of anything and everything ranging from technology to architecture to art.
Each piece of the exhibition’s art was crafted by students in Professor Meredith James’s “Design in Context (Failure)” class. According to James, the course allowed students to put themselves in uncomfortable situations and discuss what failure meant artistically.
“Culturally speaking … I don’t know that a lot of people in our country have an understanding or an acceptance of their own vulnerability or weakness or shame, you know, some of those places that are a little bit harder to get to emotionally,” James said.
James added that Dr. Brené Brown’s scholarship—particularly her idea that creative innovation can readily come from vulnerability—was a big inspiration for the course.
“Basically, failure is a real, legitimate part of an art and design discipline,” James said. “Designers incorporate failure in their working practice every day.”
Rosemary Williams, a senior at PSU, was one of the students whose work is featured in Failure. Her art features a sketchbook that gave an organic, untreated look into what went through her mind as she put it together.
“I’d pull it out and just start writing and not censor myself because I was supposed to be as raw and like, realistic as possible and I basically never blog,” Williams said. “I don’t want to tell people about what I’m thinking if I feel like it will burden them or something, but the whole point of it is to be like raw and vulnerable to other people.”
According to Williams, the class decided on a theme for their artwork that would incorporate uplifting, humorous and heartwarming looks at failure.
“I’d gone home over the weekend and was trying to think of stuff that I wanted to do, and when I came back to class, I…realized my ideas were not really heartwarming and uplifting or any of those things we talked about,” Williams said.
Williams added that one of the pages of her journal included a poster with words and eyes that represented negative sensations like the fear of failure.
“The words that were like insecurities…would slowly disappear as the eyes became less and less realistic until it would just be one phrase that would come into focus, which would be like ‘you don’t know until you try,’” Williams said.
Piper Hayworth, a junior in PSU’s graphic design program, and another student in Professor James’s course created a handwritten mural of a Winston Churchill quote that caught her eye: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
“I do a hand-lettered quote every day on my own,” Hayworth said. “Because of that, I follow a bunch of quote accounts on Twitter just to get quotes, so I randomly came across that one and I was like, ‘It’s perfect, it’s so perfect.’”
The mural features a circular composition and includes Hayworth’s original drafts of it, showing how at first she first failed at lettering the quote but kept at it until she succeeded.
“Since I do a hand-lettered quote every day, I wanted to like challenge myself and do some sort of composition that I’d never done before in a medium that I’d never worked in for lettering,” Hayworth said.
According to Hayworth, she appreciated how the class viewed failure through such a wide lens, rather than just limiting their study to the work of other artists.
“I like looking at things from a broader scope than just art and design, and that’s part of the reason, actually, that I chose to go to a university instead of an art school,” Hayworth said.
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