How to Fail Like an Artist

Blog-ThroatSingersInuit throat singers at Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony (CBC photo, Globe & Mail video)

What do you do when you reach for a goal and don’t quite get there?

It was a moment for the history books. At the swearing-in ceremony for Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 4, 2015, two young Inuit throat singers laughed and the entire country fell in love. The girls, Samantha Kigutaq-Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre, both 11 years old and residents of Ottawa, performed two throat songs and broke into giggles at the end of each. They should be the new Ministers of Cute, said social media.

But what social media missed, at least at first, is that laughter is built into Inuit throat singing. According to the Inuit Culture Online Resource, “Throat singing was traditionally performed between two women. The songs are sung as a friendly competition; played as a game. One person sets the rhythm, the pace, the sound and the other follows. The first person to outlast or not laugh is the winner, as each song tends to end in laughter.”

This isn’t competition as I’ve been taught to understand it. In the world I learned in, competition was (a) essentially male and (b) essentially serious, and losing a competition was (c) essentially shameful. Just think of all those children’s team sports with dads on the sidelines insulting volunteer coaches and humiliating their own kids.

Now think about a different kind of competition. This one is (a) for everyone who plays and (b) essentially joyous, and losing is (c) essentially a reason to laugh and play again.

These girls have been throat singing since they were two years old, at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre where they became friends. They were interviewed by Canada’s national broadcaster CBC after the performance.

“I lost that first round,” said Samantha.

“But then on the second round, I messed up on the speech I was trying to do in the throat singing and then I started laughing,” said Cailyn. “The game is whoever laughs first loses, and I messed up so I laughed.”

I messed up so I laughed. What if we all thought about “failure” that way? Not as something to hide or hide from, and never risk anything else, but as part of the joy of reaching for a goal, then being able to reach again.

When asked what she liked best about throat singing, Cailyn said, “Laughing.”

May all your goals bring laughter.

*   *   *

This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s studio. To receive updates, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.


14 Responses to How to Fail Like an Artist

  1. Eve Barbeau November 13, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Oh, Laureen, what a wonderful story and what a great take-away. How I wish I could laugh when I mess up. I’m learning, though.

    • Laureen November 13, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      Thank you Eve! It does seem worth learning though, doesn’t it – and it is hard!

  2. Paige Mortensen November 13, 2015 at 10:30 am #

    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

    • Laureen November 13, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

      Thank you and thank you for reading!

  3. Petrea Tomko November 13, 2015 at 11:03 am #


    This article/post/blog just flooded my very soul with its wisdom. What a joyous prospect! Many, many thank you’s.

    • Laureen November 13, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

      What a wonderful way to feel. Thank you!

  4. Jill Wolcott November 13, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Laureen, what a way to reframe! We should all be joyful about our efforts, not sorrowful about our failure to be the best. Thanks.

    • Laureen November 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

      So glad you liked the post, Jill. Wouldn’t it be lovely!

  5. Melissa Dinwiddie November 13, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    Oh, I love this so much, Laureen! Another beautifully crafted post from you, in which I got to learn something wonderful I wasn’t aware of before. Thank you!!

  6. Laureen November 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

    Melissa, this coming from you, the Queen of Imperfectionism, makes me smile indeed 😀

  7. Ann November 14, 2015 at 7:12 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing this and writing about it so eloquently!

    • Laureen November 14, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      Am so glad you liked it. Thank you for being here to read!

  8. Christine Tollerton November 14, 2015 at 10:43 am #

    This made me smile. Incorporating laughter into life – what a good idea. I’ve shared this for my other FB friends.

    • Laureen November 14, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      From laughter to smiles to more laughter – how lovely! Thank you for sharing.