The seventh rule in Richard Diebenkorn’s 10 rules for painting is “Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.” (1)
Frank Auerbach, one of my favorite painters, stated “If you pass something every day and it has a little character, it begins to intrigue you.” (2)
As humans we make mistakes. We also pass by elements of our lives everyday without noticing their value to us.
Passing and mistakes are part of our lives. They are part of learning. Sometimes the mistakes are deliberate. Sometimes they are inadvertent. Sometimes they are on purpose. Sometimes they are made without even knowing they were made. We pass by things that could profoundly change our lives and we do not even notice. In my personal life, I have made many mistakes. Some of the mistakes are too painful to relive. Some have hurt people I love and know. Some of the mistakes have led to wonderful discoveries. In every case, the mistake has, to para-phrase Diebenkord, “moved me from my present position.” Through mistakes I am discovering that I can now, freely, rediscover things about myself that were lying dormant. I have discovered that there are new priorities that must be aroused. I no longer have to live simultaneously in many worlds—which robs both worlds of intensity and attention. And without attention there is no growth.
I can focus on my drawing and painting and my family. I can shift away, without remorse but with gratitude, from where my whole corpus has rested since 1966 when I entered architecture school—being an architect in public service.
Mistakes are curious things. They are even more curious when they reveal potential. In my case, they have revealed that it is time to intensify my painting and drawing and withdraw from the world of commerce and dive into a world of the inner journey. It is time to discover the virtues in truthful discovery.
From Dante’s Inferno XXVI 20-24 (1994 translation by Robert Pinksy):
I sorrowed then, and when I turn my mind
To what I saw next, sorrow again—and force
My art to make its genius more restrained
Than is my mind usual bent, lest it should run
Where virtue doesn’t…
Where will this road take me next? What will I see next as I journey to the next ring? What will a life in Mexico with world travels reveal to me? Of course nothing if I am not aware. Nothing if I do not pay attention. My mistakes have aroused my powers of attention. It is time to look at something everyday and become intrigued again.
In the drawing above, entitled “The journey to the inside” I have drawn my state of mind. Moving inwardly while struggling with the outward responsibilities. I am questioning everything. As I draw intensely I can literally feel, as seen in the drawing, elements of my past escaping. As I enter my 67th year, it is time for a new journey—one no doubt full of new mistakes and intrigue. Let’s hope I pay better attention and not hurt anyone along the way.
2: See John O’Mahon, ‘Surfaces and depths’, in The Guardian (London newspaper), 15 September 2001 http://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/sep/15/arts.highereducation1