Archive for the The kids are all doing it Category

Just over three years ago, CAFA was contacted out of the blue by the West Coast artist and art teacher Jeanne Finley of the California College of the Arts. Finley had come across this Chronicle while preparing a syllabus on an art seminar she was organizing around the theme of Failure. She expressed interest in organizing some sort of collaboration between her class and this site, and we readily agreed.

The resulting final projects by her Failure students were mounted on CAFA, each in turn, at the end of the semester in May, 2009.

Although CAFA has mostly been inactive over the past few years, as various society, cultural, and familial pressures limit the ability and inclination of the site’s admin to post new stuff, we are proud to announce that, starting on Monday (December 19) and continuing with one new post each day (in a kind of Failure version of the 12 Days of Xmas), we’ll once again be presenting final projects from Jeanne Finley’s revisited seminar on Failure.

So stay tuned, Failurephiles — and please be sure to spread some love to an artist in this desperate holiday season.

As announced this week, Jeanne Finley’s Failure class at the California College of the Arts has ended. Students have submitted their final projects for the class, and the Chronicle of Artistic Failure is proud to present these young artists’ final projects for the class.

First up is Natalia Gomez. She planned a project in film and video exploring “cyclical patterns of violence.”

Natalia’s Statement for Failure Class

The anxiety was almost nauseating as the day got closer. March 17th was the day I agreed to show my video in Richard Olsen’s class. He is an art teacher at Gateway High school. I dreaded the idea of presenting my video since I was expecting the worst — no response. I expected to fail. I expected to bore these high school students. I’d walk in there and sound like a discombobulated retard. I have always hated any form of public speaking. I’ve been the quiet one who just sits and observes, too many obsessive thoughts running through my brain, making it difficult to decipher what is going on around me.

As the day arrived, I decided to bring moral support. A friend from school decided to accompany me and write a short a response of her experience of the critique. I did not take any pictures in order to create a more comfortable environment. My social phobia was increasing by the minute as the time to present was getting closer. My leg was taking a life of its own in order to calm my discomfort.

The video I chose to present was my first attempt at stop action animation. I made puppet like figures which I took individual stills of and later compiled into a movie through Windows Movie Maker. The video is violent and chaotic. It is exploring the spiraling and cyclical effects of violent acts. I am interested in exploring the ramifications of trauma on the individual. I was worried on how the class would respond to my video. I was completely surprised.

Richard Olsen showed the video and the class began to share their thoughts. One girl spoke very softly and stated that the video did not need sound. The disorienting affect of the flashing and jarring movement of the camera created its own sound. The students were very articulate and comfortable with critiquing the work. One student noted how the flowers were used to represent the male figure that was starting the vicious cycle of violence. She believed that the juxtaposition was effective. One student grinned as he noted that I made flowers insidious. While the student shared their thoughts, the instructor kept showing the video. He showed it four times. Each time the students became more and more comfortable. They began to laugh as Richard noted the corkiness of the puppets movements. The legs bent and twisted in an awkward manner. One student said that it reminded him of sex. It reached climax as the flowered patterns excreted from one of the puppet’s mouth and then it slowed down as the video went in reverse. One girl noted that the video did not need the reversal. I could just end it once the flowered patterns filled the whole screen. One student asked me what the meaning was behind this video and Richard Olsen immediately stopped him and did not let me answer. He later explained that he does not want the artist to talk for the first half of the critique. This allowed the students to give you their own interpretation without being influenced by your own thoughts. This was great because I was able to see things in my work that were not evident before. The critique only went on for 15 minutes but it was the best critique I had experienced since my time in college. They were comfortable around me which made it easier to talk about the content of the video. This created a positive and effective critique. They did not ask for my stance in making this short one minute and 18 second video. They did not stop at the surface of my work and fixate on the violence but instead explored ways that made it work and not work. Richard Olsen and his class were articulate and supportive. Since that critique I have continued talking with Richard Olsen. I feel very comfortable around him and his sense of humor is fucking great! I would do it again even though I know I would still be an anxious mess.

Richard Olsen’s Response

Natalia’s presentation was rather perfect (alas, not a failure). I think she got a lot
out of it and my kids did as well. It was really an act of sharing and exchange. I was
impressed by her and, as the daddy-teacher, my kids as well. The actual event could be
broken down to a series of levels (we showed the piece 4 times, each following
discussion, each return to the video, resulting in a higher level of engagement) but she
had a friend with her who I suspect will talk about that. At anyrate, a most delightful,
informatative, and engaging event for all. With of coruse, the art work as the
catalyst. Alas (smile), a stunning success!”

Here is Natalia Gomez’s video, “showered”:

Photos taken in Richard Olsen’s art class:




Here is the final project proposal from Jeanne Finley’s class on Failure, by the student Zina Al-Shukri:

What happens when people get together drawing and painting in the same room?

A show happens.

On Thursday, March 26th, I will be having a show in the place of productivity — My studio.
I am transforming my studio into a gallery called, Gallery 90.
The title of the show is:

What Happens Here Stays Here
Thursday, March 26th
6-9 pm
California College of the Arts
Graduate Center, Hooper St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

A series of small drawings and watercolors done by an emerging group of artists will be put up for display while people enjoy refreshments and the finest songs that contemporary rap can provide.

The artists involved are:
Anna Simson
Queena Hernandez
Maja Ruznic
Zina Al-Shukri
Justin Hurty
Liesa Lietzke
Brigid Mason

All of these small works on paper contain figurative content. It just so happened this way. They are all very different and are considered not to be any ‘real’ work of the artists’ in that they are secondary practices that are not really meant to be shown to the public eye.

So, all the pieces are failures.

Kamil Dawson

Fish Space Gallery Proposal

What Is Your Daughter Doing?:A proposal for an art event at the California College of the Arts Fish Space Gallery.

A weeklong event, highlighted with an opening night participant based art show and film screening. This would take place Saturday, March 28th and would be removed on April 4th, 2009.

I’d like to propose an event based on what daughters are doing. The event is prefaced by the underlined theme of what daughters do when mothers are away: watching sexy movies, eating junk food, looking at magazines, making naughty drawings, taking pictures, listening to music, as well as conversations based on “bitching” and “trash talk.”

The opening event will include a film screening of Led Zeppelin’s concert film, The Song Remains the Same, from 1976. During the duration of the film, event goers are encouraged to participate in the further mentioned activities. The documents and objects created during this event will then be displayed on the walls of the gallery for one week’s time.

The objective of this event is to encourage community and group collaboration between women, girls, boys and men in order to create a freeing and stress relieving space through the act of art making.

Erik Madsen


I am going to document my successes and failures in my attempts to make contact with certain galleries or organizations as well as send work to a juried competition. The first venue is Alternative Television Access in San Francisco, CA, I intend to show either some experimental works on large graphic arts film or an experimental video. My second venue will be Donna Seager Gallery in San Rafel, CA , where I will attempt to get some recent works on paper exhibited. Thirdly I am going to enter an international competition for innovative printmaking. This will be held at the Musee Hamaguchi Yozo in Tokyo, Japan and is free to enter but work must be sent to Japan and will be juried in person with prizes ranging from 1 million yen for first place as well as six 400,000 yen prizes.

Here is the second project proposal from Jeanne Finley’s class on Failure, by the student Rebecca Ora:


My mother is a failure.

My mother is the most intelligent person I know, and the person closest to me in the world. I love her more than I love my life.
She has said that her goal, as a mother, is for each of her children to know that he or she is the favorite child.
I am my mother’s favorite child.

She single-handedly raised seven children through two failed marriages, no money.
We all went through private school, from nursery through high school, beyond.

We are

1 Columbia BA graduate, works for the Boston Symphony Orchestra
1 Masters candidate in Fine Arts
1 lawyer, NYU Law School
1 Masters candidate, Middle Eastern Politics through Hebrew University
1 Barnard College BA graduate working for Legal Aid
1 Psychology BA student, USC
1 BA candidate, Brandeis University

but she, my mother, is a failure.
She had been a silversmith, a political campaign manager in New York, a dean at our high school.

Now she has no work, and no children at home.

The reason I am my mother’s favorite is because I am an artist. My mother majored in Art History because she never thought she was good enough, never had the courage to make anything herself.
She had seven children so she wouldn’t have to make anything herself.

I have asked my mother to make art—anything she chooses—and I will display it for her.

She will never have to meet the people who will view her work, and she needs to meet no standards other than her own.

I hope to give her a sense of purpose, accomplishment by creating a sign of her presence in my endeavors and her responsibility for the achievements of her children.

My mother is not a failure.

As I announced this past weekend, all this week CAFA will be presenting proposed student projects from Jeanne Finley’s class on Failure currently running at the California College of the Arts.

First up is the following proposed project by Natalia Gomez:

I will present my 1min and 10sec stop action video in Richard Olsen’s art class at Gateway High school and have a critique or conversation after the video is presented. This video is an experimentation which explores the cyclical patterns of violence. I have created a faceless silhouette made of patterned paper which only exists to exert force and orchestrate the movements of others who then repeat these abuses of power upon others. Once trapped within these patterned cycles of violence any efforts to resist them only results in getting oneself buried even deeper within their tapestry. I will document the critique by using a voice recorder and take half an hour of the class.

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.

Here’s a review of a recent failed art exhibition that I wrote for The Thousandth Word blog: “Bang a Drum for the Losers.”

Be forewarned: My take on the show at hand, “Millions of Innocent Accidents” by the artists collective Hardland/Heartland at the Minnesota Artists Gallery (at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), is a tad harsh. But I had a point to express, related to the cause of so much artistic failure across the land of late, which was this:

Shrill gestures like breaking windows, destroying property, and flouting the rules of civilized society do not make compelling symbolism. Instead, acts of a hopeful, imaginative, empathetic, or out-reaching nature are what’s needed to attract and capture the attention and support of others….

….As soon as I walked into this gallery and saw the poorly conceived, dolefully hopeless work that this well-meaning group of artists purported to consider compelling visual art—all their random and indistinct trash and burnt paraphernalia and jumbles and piles of detritus and tossed off dreck and doodles and goats’ heads and black tar corner accretions—my spirit fell. The show was a disaster, off-putting and uninspiring, and it was clear at a glance that this loudly shouting, in-your-face visual group had failed to reach out to others in any meaningfuly to get their righteous points across….

The chief problem is that, while it’s clear that Hardland/Heartland’s hearts are in the right place and they have the energy to make a lot of work (and I mean a lot of work), they just don’t know how to make much that is compelling and symbolically relevant or that embodies and expounds on their frustrations, fears, and angst in a way that someone else would care to look at. There’s no hope here, no imagination, and certainly nothing to empathize with.

Today’s edition of the Bullet Points of Failure (B.P.O.F.) gives up following, for now, all the local artistic hand-wringing that has of late been something of a preoccupation. Instead, today I strive to expand both inward and outward by bullet-pointing a few personal issues, as well as a few national ones.

  • On my other (yin) blog–about happiness and sunshine and art and drinks all around–I wrote a piece nearly a month ago (yikes! I’ve got to update that blog!) about the Nature of Happiness (and its Connection to Art). My motivation was responding to the artists who had been complaining about changes to a local artists exhibition program. I quoted former NEA chair Bill Ivey who suggested that art is best when not deemed a career-building enterprise, but instead is seen as “a way to pursue self-realization without forcing us to deny the materialist and competitive drives that pass for human nature in the West…” (See for more of Ivey’s thoughts).
  • Perhaps inspired by these two points, an alert reader, Louis Allgeyer, wrote the note below (which alerted me of a recently published Peter Schjeldahl review, which I hadn’t seen, that touches–much more eloquently–on notions put forward in my recent writing):


    Down towards the end of your nature of happiness piece you sort of ponder,where is it all going art-wise, which I think many do. Esp artists themselves, so that they can jump on the-next-big-thing (just like a stock
    broker). Esp artists who are tired of their usual self-gratification that isn’t gratifying and isn’t art.

    I hope you read the article “feeling blue,” by the other great midwestern art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, in the august 4th New Yorker magazine ( a swimmers head on the cover). He also seems to be having similar ponderings and seems to think he may see ( in a much bigger picture than the little show he is reviewing ) a “fashion auditioning as a sea change.” He goes on to predict what the next-big-thing might be, if history is any guide and if, “our particular civilization is (not)spent.”

    Naturally I like it because my stuff falls right in line so I am gratified.

    Anyhoo, I think it is an important bit journalism.

    Louis Allgeyer

  • Finally, Schjeldahl’s review–of “After Nature,” currently up at the New Museum in New York--is itself well worth bullet-pointing. He says the show “proposes a saturnine new direction in art…. Something is happening in artists’ studios: a shift of emphasis, from surface to depth, and a shift of mood, from mania to melancholy, shrugging off the allures of the money-hypnotized market and the spectacle-bedizened biennials circuit. (In fact, the underappreciated recent Whitney Biennial hinted at the mutation.)”

    And he continues: “the futility of artistic technique in the face of world conditions may constitute a subject for art as substantial as any other, and rather more compelling than today’s stacked-deck models of success… Existentialist standards of authenticity may be back in force, however fleetingly. How much can we bear of art that, like Sebald’s writing, glories in bottomless malaise? I expect we’ll find out.

    You suspect that a big change is coming when sensitive young people project (and, because they’re young, enjoy) feelings of being old. This has often signalled a backward crouch preceding a forward leap. I think of Picasso’s world-weary blue period, T. S. Eliot’s “Gerontion” and “Prufrock,” and the budding Abstract Expressionists’ wallows in Jungian mythology. The syndrome announces the exhaustion of a received cultural situation, whose traditions are slack and whose future is opaque. It typically entails nostalgia for real or fancied past ages that dealt—successfully, in retrospect—with similar crises.

    Viva la artistic failure!

An article called “Failure Makes a Comeback,” which recently appeared in the Western Washington University student newspaper, describes an exhibition of work, at the Viking Union Gallery, by seniors at the school who have all but resigned themselves to lives of artistic failure.

The show’s title–”F’ It”–is perhaps revealing of a prevailing attitude among young artists today.  The story explains that the show, organized by Western students Heidi Norgaard and Abby Wilson, is dedicated to “abandoned, damaged, or altogether failed artwork submissions” from the school’s students.

“We wanted to do a show where an artist put their heart and soul into [a piece of artwork], and it just didn’t turn out how they planned,” Wilson said. “They just had to say fuck it”…

To emphasize this approach, the coordinators requested a written description of what went wrong with the piece with each submission. They said the effect of seeing a failed piece of art next to the story of its demise adds depth to the exhibit.

The idea was inspired by a fiber-art major, who had started countless art projects that began as exciting concepts but ended up as big disappointments. “But that’s the process you have to go through,” she said. “Ninety percent of the projects artists make are really crappy. The other 10 percent are what you see in galleries… I’m tired of being mad about having shitty art, and I decided to start being happy about the mistakes I make.”

“People put too much emphasis on grades and getting things right the first time,” Norgaard said. “If every college was open to failure, we could learn a lot more.”