Perfectionism is a false refuge for our perpetually fragile egos. Some things are rarely taught in art schools. This is one of them.
I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about not being as good as other artists I admired, and didn’t realize I was robbing myself of creative energy and motivation necessary for growth. Instead of accepting where I was at the time, and being grateful for what I had, I grew more frustrated with not already being where I wanted to be. The irony, of course, is to get where you want to be you need to put in the work, and allow yourself to make mistakes along the way, while being present enough to draw the right conclusions from those mistakes. This line of thinking led me to some debilitating procrastination. Because I was too focused on being unhappy with where I was, I kept telling myself I am not ready to do what I really wanted to do. Not doing the work was a way to protect my own fragile ego from facing my perceived shortcomings.
One good thing about being in school is that it allows you to experiment and fail a lot and quickly, so you can analyze the feedback and adjust the course of your vision, moving on to the next step in the greatest experiments of all, that is yourself. I notice a lot of people today tend to measure their worth by the amount of 'likes' they get on a social media, and this is a dangerously backward thinking. They want to achieve certain heights in their artistry, focusing their attention on the future admiration of others or the positive influence their work will have on the world, while forgetting that right now is the only moment that has the potential of manifesting itself in something great tomorrow.
I am not saying it’s bad to have a greater vision for yourself. On the contrary, I am convinced it’s a must. The important distinction however is: we should cultivate that vision based on our true self–not on what we think we should be or what others want us to be. The key is to allow for that to happen and the only way to do it is to suspend the inner perfectionist, take a deep breath, and dive deep into your creative practice. Another important ingredient is to have a child-like curiosity and excitement about seeing the fruits of your labor. It’s really a wonder to me that artistic expression is just an extension of us through energy, and to let it flow freely, we need to get out of our own way. As I like to say, we should learn how to enjoy the ride.
It’s natural to doubt yourself. No-one should walk through life with fake confidence, but we should pay attention to whether any thought of “not good enough” is actually making us hide from ourselves, because we are too ashamed or uncomfortable to accept where we are right now.
Have a great week.
Old student work for a class during my graduate school. Messy, embarrassing, necessary.