Twelve Works of Art That Helped Me Through Failure

1. “If” by Rudyard Kipling

This poem is a study on how to handle failure with dignity. Because re-writing is a great exercise for deeply understanding a piece of writing, here’s the poem re-written and illustrated by myself and my kids. You can read it here in its entirety.

2. Tender Mercies with Robert Duvall

I watched this film over ten times over the course of the year that my professional and personal life was spiraling into despair. It was like looking into a mirror. “Tender Mercies” is the story of a redeemed drunk who finds love and tenderness. We learn that he used to be Mac Sledge, a famous country singer who drank himself out of a career. He is reconnected with the daughter that he hasn’t seen in many years, and — my favorite moment in the film — he sings a stunning and unaccompanied lullaby that portrays his loneliness, his longing, and the beauty he can still give to the world. I used to be Daniel Stedman. Who am I now? I ask this question in my paradox, and perhaps I’ve found the answer in “Tender Mercies”.

3. The Poems of Stephen Crane

Over the epic two-year failure of my business, I never stopped chasing the horizon, and anyone and everyone that told me that it was futile was lying.

4. Bob Dylan, 1974–1976

Desire, Planet Waves, and Blood on the Tracks have all played on repeat. So much so, in fact, that after many renditions of Black Diamond Bay to my newborn, Robbie, that he still thinks, to this day, that my father (his grandfather) died in a volcano.

5. Luchenback, Texas — Back to the Basics

iTunes tells me that I listened to this song over 432 times in the past year. The story of a successful has-been who is miserable and trying to get back to the basics. Click on Waylon to listen.

6. A Star is Born

Anyone else suffer a bit of self-medicating during a downturn? After I’d watched this seventeen times, I could no longer get through the halfway point. I think I was on my way to recovery. The first half of the movie is one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. The second half is too difficult and heartbreaking to re-watch. Stay tuned for my upcoming essays about this movie and the death of Rock & Roll.

7. Opening image to The Cat From Hunger Mountain

This is an incredible children’s book by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young. It’s about a place called Hunger Mountain where there lives a lord who has everything imaginable yet never has enough.

8. Memory Camera

Making my own art helped.

9. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

The lesson here is right in the title. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re not the hero. You’re not the protagonist. You’re just a bit player.

10. Deer Hunter

I saw this film with my 8th grade class. While my classmates shouted “Mao” and laughed and jeered, I was moved into a serious teenage existential crisis that had me deeply questioning the purpose of my own existence. I’ve revisited this film many times over the past years, whenever I’ve encountered my own personal, professional, existential or other crises.

11. Viva Terlingua

The dawn of outlaw & gonzo country. Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band. I listened to this album on repeat. Walker decided to hold a Saturday night concert at the Luckenbach dance hall. The cost for admission was one single dollar with an attendance of 900 people and created a revolution.

12. Still Willin’

In a two-year sea of promises, broken promises, signed term sheets, and dreams deferred, I was always Willin. R.I.P. Lowell George. Here’s my fave version, with Linda Ronstadt.

13. Art Wall

Making art with children (particularly your own) is a good tactile reminder of what’s really important and who’s the hero (see: Fifth Business).



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Daniel Stedman

Daniel Stedman

Co-founder @brooklynmag @TasteTalks @NorthsideFest (acquired) Student journalism advocate. Boxing record 1-0.