Lynda Barry, professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes about art, “the only way to understand things is by making things. Thinking about it, theorizing about it, chatting about it will not get you there” (72). Here we see a particular crossover between art and the digital humanities. Both are particularly invested in making things, and while they may spend some time theorizing the methods to make those things, they ultimately must create to be successful. However, with creation comes the inevitable risk of failure, the result of trying and coming up short. Nobody likes failing, but it is a crucial part of every creative process, digital humanities included.
Failure is a loaded word, full of both connotations for crippling defeat and unlikely victory. Famous inventors, entrepreneurs, and leaders almost inevitably have stories of abounding failures and setbacks before they achieved success. However, while it is easy to look up to these figureheads as inspirations, it is much harder to apply that same mindset to failure in our own lives. Interestingly, the role of failure has strong parallels between the fields of art and digital humanities. On failure and disliking our own work, Barry notes, “Sometimes we say this kind of picture looks like a kid drew it. and people are dismayed by this and even ashamed enough to destroy the picture – get rid of it- – – immediately. But what if the way kids draw – that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ – what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand? A live wire!” (30-31).
This approach to art is one that is also healthy for the field of digital humanities. If the expectation is that DHers should turn out perfect projects from the start, creativity and innovation will be stifled. Inherently a part of the creative process is failing to create a product that you are happy with and then correcting the flaws. Sometimes this correction is a modification to the flawed product. Other times it involves scrapping it and taking the knowledge of what does not work into designing a new product. Either way, if DHers and artists are more willing to accept failure while learning from it, a culture of productive failure can drive new innovation and creativity.
Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor. Canada: Drawn and Quarterly, 2014. Print.