When it comes to your personal failures, is your first instinct to tuck them away in some dark corner of your subconscious and absolutely never talk about them? Well, you're not alone. In fact, that's probably how most people feel about their mistakes. But not Erik Kessels. His new book, Failed It! (Phaidon), celebrates those flubs as "early brushes with success." (A term we're officially adopting starting today.)
"This book is about having the courage to fail spectacularly when the alternative is boring conformity and dull ideas," writes Kessels. "It's about rejecting the safe and expected in favor of the exciting and unknown. This book is dedicated to the art of making mistakes."
Kessels scanned his world of fellow artists, photographers, designers, and everyday people to put together the wonderfully imperfect collection of photos and pearls of wisdom found in Failed It!.
Here, Kessels shares some of the lessons learned—and why mistakes and oversights make the world a better place to live, work, and create.
Celebrate the Illogical
"Today's urban landscapes are studies in uniformity and repetition," says Kessels. But the mistakes and blunders in urban planning should be appreciated for breaking the sameness—and offering a moment of reflection (and a laugh).
Screw Up to Stand Out
"If you want to get noticed, do yourself a favor and stop pursuing perfection, because that's exactly what everyone else is doing," says Kessels. "Pursue the imperfect instead." Kessels offers this billboard as the quintessential example: "Would you really register yet another bland billboard? Well, you might not if it hadn't been jumbled by inattentive workers."
Sharpen Your Gaze
If you ask Kessels, the idea of serendipity is simply an over-romanticized notion. "Most of those moments we call serendipitous are in fact just about keeping your eyes open," which is why he loves the photography of Matt Stuart. "He's always on the hunt for those juxtapositions, oddities, and disconnections that thousands of people pass by without noticing."
When a View is Flawless, Interrupt It
Finding the perfect vista to document, agonizing over the perfect angle, taking and retaking the same shot over and over, and scrutinizing the appropriate filter for it has become commonplace in our digital world, stemming from the need to be flawless in our public persona.
Kessels suggests getting to know Kurt Caviezel's refreshing perspective. He's spent the last 15 years scanning webcams, waiting for the very split second a view becomes interrupted by—of all things—an insect. "Caviezel has the webcam beat covered, but his lesson is a valuable one: be on the lookout for intrusions and visual anomalies, even when you least expect them," says Kessels. "The blot on the landscape might just change the way you see the world."
Redesign Your Imagination
"These days it seems that everything, everywhere, is the same," laments Kessels. It's the reason his natural reaction is to praise those doing it differently, like the artist collective PutPut, which specializes in putting two seemingly incongruous objects together. "Common household objects are forced to procreate," says Kessels, "forming a beautifully impractical new object."
Failed It! by Erik Kessels (Phaidon) is out May 16, $13, phaidon.com.