Archive for the Ah California... Category

A Statement by Jeanne Finley: 

My graduate seminar at CCA is a fail. While on sabbatical and leave for the past two years, I developed a seminar that would focus on the cultural construction of failure identities both historically and contemporarily; the failures of graduate student’s work created and shown publically during the seminar; and a further public reflection and celebration of those failures through the forum of Michael Fallons Art Failure website.

The Failure seminar filled on the first day of registration and quickly a long waitlist developed for the class. FAIL. On the first day I walked into the classroom and over twenty people were fighting for a place in the seminar. FAIL. I opened my computer and patched it into the projector. FAIL. I went around the room and asked the student’s department affiliation within the fine arts department. FAIL. I am a professor in the media arts area and have always had classes populated with about seventy-five percent media arts students. FAIL. Things had changed at CCA during my leave. FAIL. None of the students in the classroom were media arts students. FAIL. Most of them were painters. FAIL. The projector would not see the power-point presentation I had prepared. FAIL. I struggled with the technology. FAIL. Students went to the AV center to try to fix the problem. FAIL. Some of them never came back. FAIL. I told the students that most of the work I came prepared to show was media arts based work. FAIL. I gave up on power-point and presented from individual files. FAIL. I showed some things off U-tube. FAIL. I heard a student ask under their breath, “Did she just do a search on failure on u-tube?” FAIL. I showed a work of my own that was a failure in my own eyes although successful publicly. FAIL. I showed a work of mine that is a success for me although curators have been uninterested in it. FAIL. At last it was break. FAIL. Students began telling me they were dropping the seminar. FAIL. Students began saying that the description of the seminar didn’t match what was happening that first day. FAIL. By the end of the day almost everyone dropped the seminar. FAIL. Almost everyone on the waitlist left too. FAIL. I have never felt so devastated in all my years of being a professor. FAIL. Five students in total remained in the class. SUCCESS.

The intimacy of the seminar and the commitment by the students to both the seminar topic and their own work resulted in a remarkable class. We took an overnight field trip hosted by social practice artist, Gregory Gavin. Richard Olsen brought us to his high school art classroom and Tina Takamoto gave a talk on her work. The process of creating a seminar from a focused group of students through the first day’s failure was not something I would necessarily wish to repeat, but I am grateful that that it happened this semester as the seminar would never have succeeded in the way it did if we hadn’t first failed.

The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America was recently contacted by Jeanne C. Finley, a professor of art at the California College of the Arts, with the idea that we here at Art-Failure HQ should collaborate with her students in a class she is teaching called Failure.

Failure is, according to the course prospectus, “a graduate critique seminar [that] celebrates work that fails. Despite the overwhelming pressure to publicly present works that are highly successful, much of the work completed in graduate school falls short of that ambition…. We take as our premise that there is no such thing as a mistake and that all failures lead to innovation. Students in this seminar will work to create artworks that succeed, but will present their work from the vantage point of its failures, thus shifting the focus of the critique from defense of the work, to the celebration of the process of creation.”

Finley presents a series of questions for students to focus on in the course: “What can these failed works teach the artists that create them? How do these failures lead to the creation of the unexpected and the delightful? Is it possible for the artist and their community to approach the failed work with excitement and desire for more? Why is it that some of the most interesting artists create the most seriously flawed, yet utterly brilliant work that defies categorization?”

Over the course of the semester, students will read weekly selections and show their works. At the end of the semester, each student will be involved in a public presentation of works that “fail.” Also—of particular interest to readers of CAFA—students will each write an analysis of these works, and these writings will appear here, on this website, before the end of the semester.

I can’t wait to see what these students have to say!

In the meantime, we will be posting bits and snippets from the various reading selections that Professor Finley has assigned to her students through the semester. To start, below is a bit of a poem that was included in the course syllabus.

To Those Who’ve Fail’d

By Walt Whitman


To those who’ve fail’d, in aspiration vast,
To unnam’d soldiers fallen in front on the lead,
To calm, devoted engineers–to over-ardent travelers–to pilots on
their ships,
To many a lofty song and picture without recognition–I’d rear
laurel-cover’d monument,
High, high above the rest–To all cut off before their time,
Possess’d by some strange spirit of fire,
Quench’d by an early death.