Mistakes are the portals of discovery.

— James Joyce

In a painting class this week, I confessed to “wiping” a lousy still life, an admission that triggered a 15-minute discussion of the upside of mistakes.

“Wiping a painting is a badge of honor,” the teacher said. “It’s also therapeutic.”

A decade ago, she told us, she gave herself “permission to wipe” three of every four of her paintings, in the interest of improving her skills and her sales.

She went so far as to track all the paintings she wiped on a wall-chart, like a prisoner tracks the days of his sentence.

The result?

She paints with sureness and authority today, rarely wiping; and her paintings steadily sell (in the low thousands of dollars, no less).

“Wiped.” Oil on canvas board. 8 x 10 inches. NFS. 🙂

Unlike the teacher, when I screw up and wipe a painting, I tend to get angry and sullen, sometimes for days.

But I need to rethink things.

I need to believe that my every mistake isn’t a screwup, but a “portal to discovery,” or what President Obama liked to call a “teachable moment.”

I have to give myself permission to wipe most paintings.

Easy to say.

Hard to do.

But when you make it a goal to wipe most of your work, you do yourself a great favor.

You open the doors to discovery.

James Joyce nailed it.

And speaking of Joyce, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!