You know that last post inspired by Michelangelo, about staying with a painting until it feels right? Here’s the other side of that coin: the ravaging destruction of perfectionism. That awful feeling that can gurgle up as you cover a canvas with paint, that you need to impress, to be the best… Get off that panicky road to the perfect painting mirage. Perfection is not only unattainable, but its downright soul-sucking. And a piece of art with its soul sucked out of it… well, who wants to spend time looking at that? An imperfect and passionate painting is so much better than one pulverized by anxious perfectionist energy. And I believe perfectionism also results in timid paint strokes, as fear of making a mistake is strong in this mindset. Timid paintings versus raw boldness… yup. Perfectionism can kill a piece of art.
So while it is important to stay with a piece of art until it feels right to you, it’s also important to know when to take a break from it, or consider it finished… or even scrap it. So how do you know the difference when you are in the trenches, in a ball frustrated energy? For me, this is all about a feeling. (ugh, I hate to be so vague and abstract). But here is my attempt to concretely explain what I mean by this ethereal feeling that accompanies me when I am frustrated while painting. The particulars of the feeling determine if my frustration is perfectionism or something else entirely. Frustration can be born of many things, so its important to keep alert for where its coming from.
Time to Stop When…
Are you bored while painting this work? Are thoughts such as “what will so-and-so think about this?” and “would anyone ever buy this?” and “will this get me a ton of likes on Instagram?” bubbling up? … Move on. Put the painting aside for awhile, out of your consciousness. Later, you can look on it with fresh eyes and a rested soul to see if you are truly inspired to finish it. Or maybe it’s not in your soul. It’s okay to let it go. You can use the canvas for something else. Something you are excited about.
Keeping Painting When…
Do you feel excited about this piece, even while you are frustrated? Or perhaps you feel scared? Both of these feelings are signs to keep going. Getting over your fear is the next step, but fear in general is a sign post that you are exploring something new. And that is usually worth your time.
A yoga teacher of mine has a particular philosophy on karma that fits well here: “Think about your present practice in terms of how it will help you for next time you approach it. You don’t have to be perfect right now. Your attention and efforts to today’s practice will serve you next time. This is karma.” Paint what you are excited about, explore your work and dive past your fears. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Everyone has their own measure of when to stop. I strive to stop at “it sings to my soul.” Either that or, “I hate this freaking thing and I don’t want to spend any more time on it.” And off it goes into a pile of canvases to paint over. And that, my friends, is completely okay.
So that’s what helps me. Do you have ideas, tips, thoughts on getting through perfectionism? I would love to hear what helps you! Please share in the comments!