Sunday, 31 December 2017

Creativity vs Perfectionism

The titles of some abstract paintings puzzle me, but perhaps I just don’t have the right sort of imagination.  Naming my work isn’t foremost in my mind but I always know what I am painting, even if it is abstract.  Sometimes I begin knowing what I want to create and other times I just begin by playing with colour and letting something evolve; about halfway into the painting I know where it is going.  It is my opinion that if an abstract painting’s name is not something that makes sense, if the viewer cannot see it, then the painting is a collection of coloured shapes, smears or marks, which may be attractive, but it is not a painting representative of something.  Sometimes I make such paintings because they are fun and because I have a passion for colour that exceeds my passion for form.  Sometimes what I put on the canvas is an arrangement of colour that pleases my eye and I think that so do other artists and then they pretentiously name it something like “Grandma Walks the Dog”.

I suspect it is true that sometimes what we call pretentious is what we don’t understand and it is possible that we can learn to understand and this would be growth, but it is also possible that something is not understandable because it is nonsense.  

Recent paintings-a bit of glare on them from sunlight-can't complain about sunlight!

Sunlight Through the Fog:  Inspired by the view out my window

Golden Rain Tree: Inspired by the texture I’d created on the canvas and a mood for yellow.

Tulipa:  Inspired by a desire to just slap on some paint and this being easy.

 The Thinky Part

Periodically I get discouraged.  I become convinced that I am pretty much crap as an artist and am only fooling myself that it’s a worthwhile endeavour.  Of course in this instance I am forgetting that I paint because I love to, that it is the process which makes me happy.  But I’d be lying if I said that was all.  I am the sort of person who wants to be good at anything she makes an effort to do.  You know the saying, ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’  I have a tendency to approach it backwards and think, if I can’t do it well then I don’t want to try.  This is the daily dilemma of the perfectionist.  The thing about being a perfectionist is that life is hard because I am never perfect.  In fact for the most part I never come anywhere near my own standards.  I never think to myself, ah I’ve achieved just what I set out to achieve.  If I can achieve it, I don’t value it.  If I can do it, I am not at all impressed. 

There are pros and cons to this mindset.  Obviously it’s a bit negative, and can make a regular battle against discouragement a necessity.  On the other hand, it’s a bit of a motivator.  I am also the sort of person who in response to the statement ‘you can’t do that’ is inclined to say ‘Oh yeah, just watch me.’

I’ve made it my mission in life to make myself do some hard things.  It doesn’t take any trick to make me create, but it takes a great deal of courage to share.  If I make it look easy, then I’ve successfully fooled you.  It’s not.  I am scared all of the time.  Scared of failure, of being laughed at or perhaps worse, dismissed.  I am scared, more than anything, of making a fool of myself.  Whether it’s poetry or painting, I complete a new piece with a mixture of relief, fear and excitement.  I can fluctuate rapidly between feeling pleased and being convinced it’s garbage but I know that I’m not alone.  Many if not most creative people experience this.  We have put what we might call our heart and soul into it.  It is part of us, and sharing it means vulnerability.  Some artists and writers who are now considered great were rejected or ignored in their own lifetimes, because all art is somewhat subjective.  Yes, there is bad art, but distinguishing between something that is badly done or just not to your taste is not always simple.  If I think about it, there are works by my favourite artists which I don’t really like, even the really famous ones and sometimes even work that seems not very skillful.  Knowing that many artists experience self-doubt, I wonder which of their work they feel less pleased with themselves.

I used to worry constantly about the fact that there is nothing new, it has all been done.  To the best of my knowledge someone has already used fecal matter as a medium for art so perhaps it is lack of imagination on my part but I think the shock factor is all used up in art.  Not that shock is my aim.  But every artist wants to find something unique, surprising, different from the rest and there is only one way to do that.  The way to do that is to be yourself because nobody else is you.  That statement is a bit like something I would roll my eyes at if it came on an internet meme complete with a picture of a waterfall and rainbow, or maybe a unicorn.  But as much as I dislike inspirational sayings some of them do have merit.   I’m not a skilled imitator so even if I set out to paint like Picasso or write like Alice Munro, whatever I produce will still be identifiable as mine and instead of being disappointed by that I need to remember to embrace it.

I haven’t perfected anything, which is perhaps a good thing or life would be pointless.  I’ve not perfected living according to any of my favoured philosophies, being the person I desire to be, creating what I desire to create, and I wonder if I could be happy if I had.  What would I do otherwise?  What goal would I have?  What would motivate me to get up every day besides coffee?


  1. I absolutely know where you're coming from cause I have been there.
    I often think a lot of the things I am doing are crap, but if it is crap now, at least I can learn and grow and maybe turn it into something I will be proud of

  2. As always, grist for the thought-mill. Thanks for sharing. May we all enjoy and appreciate our own infinite supplies of imperfection, creativity, and motivation in the year ahead. :-)


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