On Coloring Books & Failure

Photo by Joe Cavasos

Photo by Joe Cavasos

Long week at work? Got a stressful project on your plate? Instead of burying yourself in your Snapgram feed, try picking up a few pencils. Just hope your toddler will fork them over.

Adult coloring books have taken America by storm. It’s the same phenomena as paint by numbers, sans afro. Several titles have remained on Amazon’s bestsellers list for months on end.

Most users find coloring therapeutic and nostalgic — a simple way to unwind that doesn’t require a monthly subscription. I’m all for finding ways to relax and unplug, but I think the resurgence of these seemingly harmless distractions denotes a much deeper issue.

Staying in the lines gives you all the benefits of feeling like you’re making art without any of the risks. This insulation from failure is exactly what makes these faux art projects so soothing — and fruitless.

Fear is an integral part of work worth doing. If a project’s guaranteed to work, you’re probably saying “me, too” not “this is new”.

I get it. Mindlessness may be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s nice to unplug every once in a while. But trying to do real art with a coloring book is like expecting to win the Tour de France with training wheels.

The danger here is we have exchanged innovation and inspiration for guidelines and guarantees. True inspiration, the byproducts of true artists who have gone before us, fills us up with the energy to make something new, not follow someone else’s directions.

Alternative forms of coloring books help us hide from the important (hard) things in life:

We insist on taking the music theory course before try to improvise over All of Me.

We’ve had a mixing plugin a year and still haven’t peeked beyond the preset menu.

We’re more concerned with being the best Sunday morning cover band than doing the hard and vulnerable work of songwriting for our local Body.

I’m just as guilty as you are. I’ll turn to a respected business book to feel like I’m getting things done, but let consuming it take priority over making something. Oddly enough, The Icarus Deception caught me in the act.

The good news: it’s ok to be inadequate. It means you’re ok with failing. And failure paired with humility leads to growth. Growth paired with purpose leads to change. And change paired with dignity leads to a better world.

Let’s turn the page, sharpen our pencils, and get outside the lines. Your art is worth it.

Michael Curtis

A mastering engineer and composer who loves helping you sound awesome.