Perfectionism is Ruining Your Art Practice
Dear Wonderful, Creative You:
Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of finishing things, and it’s relationship to perfectionsim. I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes I look around and notice I have about 6 or 7 art pieces in process. Or I notice I want to start another new one, while I’m in the midst of something else. I can have a bit of shiny object syndrome, or the hard work part feels hard. But mostly, I think it boils down to perfectionism. I’d like to talk together a bit about why perfectionism is ruining your art practice.
Yup, there it is, rearing its unattainable little head again.
Here’s the thing. The intention of doing things perfectly will keep us from even starting. It’s such a defeating way to approach the things that matter to us.
I find perfectionism plays out in other areas of my life besides art, too. For example, I’m set to go for a long run, or do a hard class at the gym. I think, “Oh man, there’s no way I can do that 100% today! Maybe I shouldn’t go; I don’t want to let myself down, or have other people see me not working hard.”
If I gave in to this way of thinking, would I ever complete my work outs? Nope. I’d be on my couch, thinking about working out, and feeling bad about myself because I can’t seem to do the thing I supposedly want so badly to do. Does this sound familiar to what happens with you for art? It does for me!
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So instead of thinking that way, here’s what I tell myself:
I think, “Oh man, there’s no way I can do that run full effort today,”
And I answer myself: “Okay, you don’t have to go full on. Just go and do what feels doable. Take it a bit easier. You don’t need to win the race today.”
This way of thinking – giving myself permission to do it imperfectly, gives me permission to do it. Strangely, because I take the pressure off, I find I can work harder.
It’s the same with art. Perfectionism is a self-defeating prophecy.
If you can only make art perfectly, or you aren’t allowed to make it, then you aren’t allowed to make art. And so you make much less art. The less art you make, the less your skills improve, the less you develop your unique ideas, the more discouraged you feel. Do you see how this works?
What I’m suggesting is a way of focusing on process over product. You can hear more about it in this podcast.
And finishing your work, even if it’s “not as perfect as you’d imagined,” can be freeing. Sometimes to keep going, all I have to do is release myself from the expectation that it be perfect, and that helps me go back with the intention of finishing. Finishing feels SO GOOD. And usually, it’s much better than I thought it would be, just like my run.
So with this cloud painting project I’ve been showing you, even though I’ve gotten frustrated at moments with it, and my perfectionism tries to speak up and at times, I’m pressing on. I’m recommitting to enjoying the experience of moving paint around on these little squares. I’m recommitting to being curious about what each little area might need – not in a perfectionistic way – but in a playful way, one that makes room for exploration, and channels the creative energy from the universe.
I’d love to hear about how you deal with your perfectionistic tendencies. Tell us about it in the comments!
Spot on, again, Amy. I’ve realized lately how much you’ve influenced me.
Hey Aline – Oh, I am so thrilled that I get to be a part of your art life. Thanks for taking the time to say so, it means a lot to me! XO Amy
Totally dealing with this today. 2 fails are in the trash.
Hi Nadine! Oh I totally hear you! When we aren’t happy with our work, sometimes it can be so painful, especially if the perfectionist/inner critic is hanging around. What helps me in those moments is focusing on process. Reminding myself that all good artists have to make a lot. That means making a lot of junk. And all that junk leads to some good work at times. And it leads to positive little nuggets. I try to treasure these. xo Amy
Oh..lol…that is so Me….the fear of Failing….
I will be following..Tks Amy
Hey Carole: Well, clearly you are not alone! Done pretty well, or even just done is so much better than not done at all when it comes to our art practice. It’s about a focus on process over product for me. In the end, it adds up to some beauty I think.
This is just what I needed to hear today! It’s been a crazy week and I only picked up my paints once….. but that once got me through the week! So I thank you for the gentler reminder about that perfectionist bug I carry with me. I like to work in stages and see the process develop; I think that’s why I love your style so much!
thanks for the timely topic! I am going to do some base coats in my journal so it is ready for me and do some more inchies 🙂
Yes, I write what I also need to hear. I’m so happy to hear you enjoy the process in sections too! xo
Thank you for your helpful blog posts. You’ve helped me with overcoming creative blocks, as I’ve been reading your posts for several months now. (Also restarting The Artist’s Way). You’ve helped me understand some abstract concepts that I struggle to understand, me being the visual learner than I am.
WE ALL need some of those concrete reminders about those abstract ideas. I’m so glad I can be a part of your process! xo
Even if something doesn’t turn out the way I expected it to, I’ll post it and figure I’ll have a record of my work and will also see improvement along the way.
And that, Amy, is why I’m so glad I came across you!
Aw, Jane! I’m so thrilled that you are here too! I love what you’ve added here. xo
Amy…I will be 71 in November. I started taking classes from you a couple of years ago, and FINALLY found the artist within! 4 years of college art classes taught me nothing compared to what I have learned from you! Thank you from the bottom and top of my heart and all between. Perfection has for so many years stopped me from creating anything. ..so i didn’t…NOW I DO!!! THANK YOU SEEMS SO INADAQUATE1
Diane – I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write me. I am so moved by your story, and I’m so excited that you have found the artist within! What a thrilling thing! I’m so very happy for you, Diane! xo Amy
This is a “saying” I came across, and it helps much! I want to share it:
Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking.
Start with voice trembling but START. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have.
Thank you for this BEAUTIFUL quote from IJEOMA UMEBINYUO. It’s so powerful and so what we all need to hear. It’s about imperfectly doing what we do. xo Amy
I can relate to that!
So glad this speaks to you Dee! xo
I totally understand this, Amy! But you helped inspire me this weekend to finish one project (a denim whale) and to work on three page spreads in my neglected Boho fabric journal. I wrote in my blog yesterday how wonderful it feels to complete a piece and not go jumping off to start a brand new one (that might be neglected soon, anyway). Thanks for the great reminder.
Gina – Your blog is so lovely. Thanks for the invite to visit. It’s was great to see your lovely tribute and art for Fluid Art and also your amazing mended coasters! XO So happy you were inspired here! XO