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!