Le Général Bonaparte, 1798
It follows, then, that imperfection merely means that which is not complete, unfinished.
Near the end of his life, Leonardo (as in da Vinci) went through his notebooks and wrote over and over again, "Tell me if anything was ever done". Yes, Leonardo struggled with perfectionism.
So do many of my students. I've attracted many perfectionists to my drawing and watercolor workshops and courses over the years. As a recovering perfectionist, I recognize them and their suffering right away. I understand the syndrome and coax them (sometimes more successfully than others) through the process of letting one thing or another go.
Even if students aren't outright perfectionists, there's a more subtle, related suffering. A constant nagging sense of displeasure or defeat (or both) when showing work they consider subpar.
I understand that, too. Especially over this past year, when I've only had time, for the most part, to make mad dash demos under pressure of stupidly short amounts of time and (often) interruption, I then present whatever results as an example of my abilities. Actually, the results are rushed demonstrations of how to but still, my ego is crestfallen with the results and the what other people think nattering is super annoying.
“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at it’s core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.”
Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.”
– Brené Brown
In fact, they're all just teases. Warm ups (with, at this time in my life, nowhere to go for follow up). However, if I can get over myself, all of these (mostly) disappointments keep my muscles flexed, the practice intact and provide some sense of accomplishment. The carrots of disappointment and imperfection keep me in a race that, eventually, as soon as there's more time, will have me winning more often on a daily basis.
Fortunately, the demos I'm creating for the online courses are mostly highly successful. So there's that. I'm not operating in abject failure.
All of what I've just described is experience that cannot be conveyed to a novice or to someone unwilling to let go of prescribed structures. That may be the most difficult part of teaching beginners. The other difficult notion to convey to beginners is that we're all beginners, no matter how long we've been practicing and working away.
There's a large degree of faith involved in the creative process. There are moments of inspiration and master pieces but the whole cloth unfolds over a longer period of time and experience and work that any one piece can adequately describe in terms of perfection. Faith kicks in when you come to understand that you cannot possibly know or control the end result or outcome of any process, let alone any creative process. Faith is a practice, too.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”
- Anne Lamott
This may be one reason why I cling to watercolor as my main medium, because the naked paper is always a presence if not clearly visible. Just one reason.
Of course, drawing and painting are not always a matter of suffering. Not by a long shot. Many are completed quite nicely (if not perfectly).
Come learn about magnificent imperfectionism.
Work with me.
"Perfectionism is internalized oppression." - Gloria Steinem