Let’s F*ck Up Together
Last week, I scrolled upon some Architizer clickbait with the tagline, Are you guilty of any of these bad drawing habits? Curious, I opened it, only to find a sad excuse for an article titled “Young Architect Guide: 12 Common Mistakes Made When Drawing Architecture” subtitle continues, “Our efforts to communicate through drawings can fall short if mistakes are made in the creation process.” The bad habit list includes: relying too much on outlines, drawing circular forms incorrectly, smudging, using the wrong grade of pencil, and using poor materials. A wave of fury instantly swept over me. Are we to believe these are qualities to be guilty of? As we mull over the impact of defaults in architecture and design, I question the supposed divide between right and wrong in the work we create and how these play into greater visions of success.
Relentless ideals emerge from the dos-and-don’ts promoted by the media, competition guidelines, syllabi and course intentions, and the preaching of enduring idols. What has been deemed successful, be it modes of visual representation or patterns in spatial layout, suggests a safe route to trek. We must question our half-subconscious efforts to emulate our studio mates, to follow trends, and to impress an educator by mimicking their style. What happened to reveling in our imperfections? To share and discern them as crucial components of the design process?
Many of us have experienced a moment of excitement or fear from an unexpected glitch or operation of error. When this happens, do you end up correcting the flaw? Likewise, do you reprint an image if it comes out purple instead of black? Is there discomfort in the idea of presenting work that diverges from your ideal vision? Moreover, why do we hesitate to show anything considered less than perfect or even adequate? In a New York Times review of MoMa’s 1998 Jackson Pollock retrospective headlined “How Even Pollock’s Failures Enhance His Triumphs”, author Michael Kimmelman recounts, “He was always trying to stretch the parameters of the narrow agenda he set for himself, and if he sometimes botched the results, which he did, this was intrinsic to a process that consciously flirted with incoherence: accidents, upon which the art depended, had to be held in tension with acts of control. The exhibition is instructive because you see some of the failures, which clarify his successes by contrast.” 1
Academia provides a somewhat self-indulgent space to experiment, to discover what drives our mental consciousness, and to examine counter-conventional methods of working. Fearless abnormalities have future potentials greater than anything that has been iterated before. I recall a moment last year where a fellow student set the Mimaki machine to cut instead of draw. Subsequently, their drawing did not appear as ordinary line work but rather a build-up of exacto cuts. This weathered the paper, giving the impression that the composition could fall apart if mishandled. There was something profound about this result and the fact that it was presented and discussed in class; perhaps because it was a project with an unfamiliar future.
This is not to be confused with the impulse to deviate for the sake of being different. In undergrad, I observed the growing fad of inverting drawings from loyal followers of Morphosis. When pinned-up, the black background of these compositions contrasted the white of their neighbors. The white line work distracted perception, hid blemishes, and gave the illusion of innovation, when in fact, the drawing would seem similar to the others if inverted again. Critique often diverted from the content of these drawings; they were frequently praised and encouraged at a superficial level for their luminous lines and sleek, product-like quality. This is comparable to setting an iPhone appearance to “dark mode”; a slick packaging that functions no different from “light mode”. An appealing ambiance that can be turned on and off based on preference. We should scrutinize the action of imitating popular aesthetics, theory, and process, and welcome the unexpected.
Ultimately, it is not about standing out from the pack, it is about not caring where you stand. We must not be afraid to be unappealing, the underdog, the unchosen. Let there be no guilt or shame in the process of creative exploration. You never really know where your f*ck ups will take you.
- “How Even Pollock’s Failures Enhance His Triumphs.” New York Times, 1998. ↩︎