Do you find it difficult to express your ‘true’ self?
Do you find it hard to feel good about your art?
Do you struggle to find a steady flow in your creativity?
Chances are you are battling perfectionism.
Perfectionism is ‘the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection’.
I am not a psychologist, but I am a recovering perfectionist, and I have experienced first hand how perfectionism can stifle, block and choke creativity. If you are a creative person, you probably know what I mean.
What does a perfectionist look like?
You have a constant drive to make things look (or seem) perfect.
Not because you have nothing else to do, but you can’t help yourself. Whether it is the way you see the world, the way you practice your art or the way you post things online – you are not satisfied until they are perfect, and you have mastered the art of covering up. You are your own worst critic, and you find it difficult to celebrate joy and gratitude.
As a result, you find it hard to get into a creative flow, and you are often left feeling uninspired, frustrated and dissatisfied.
If we truly want to become artists who flourish and live happy, healthy lives, we need to re-calibrate our thinking and get more insight into why we are struggling.
Why do we pursue perfectionism?
1. The Fear of being found out
Perfectionism is the propeller that drives us to strive. Audiences could interpret this as ‘success’, but actually, it is a cover-up for fear and shame. We get applause for all our hard work and dedication, but we are overcompensating to cover up a secret. We don’t want to be found out.
The fear that people will discover that we are not really that talented, funny or clever drives us to perform and pursue perfection.
Great art touches the heart and exudes from a vulnerable, authentic soul. If we really want to make art that can impact our audiences, we need to get in front of that mirror, preferably naked, and take a long hard look. We need to embrace ourselves – just the way we are. Your own beautiful self!!!
When we realise that we are worthy of love and connection, then we can truly be ourselves and allow creativity to flow.
2. The Fear of rejection
Being an artist takes a lot of courage. We are continually scrutinised and judged, not only by others but also by ourselves.
Imagine, you spend weeks in your studio painting a magnificent painting. With vulnerable abandonment, you pour out your heart into every brushstroke and colour. The painting is an expression of something that is living deep inside of you, and the mere fact that you have painted it has changed you forever.
Pride and trepidation fill you, as you meander around the gallery on opening night. You observe a couple standing in front of your painting. You see them frowning and talking to each other, and you gaze just long enough to see them give their final scowl of disapproval. This rejection hits you hard, and you are blinded and miss the tear and the smile your painting brings to some of the other guests.
If you are an artist and you are anything like me, then this is an all too familiar scene for you. These are moments when you need to resist the impulse to numb yourself or to run and hide.
The word courage comes from the root word ‘heart’, and as artists, we need to choose to continue to live, love and work from our hearts, even when we have no guarantee that we will get anything in return.
3. Inner critic
Artists are some of the most critical people I know – not so much towards others, but towards ourselves. The critic inside of us thrusts us forward and can even drive us to accomplish noteworthy things. But our inner critic can also be a terrible guide and a cruel master.
The following story that I recently heard really brought this home.
Some forensic artists were asked to each draw two sketches of some women attending a conference. Each artist was assigned one woman, and he had to sketch her without seeing her, based on the description she gave about herself. The artist listened and sketched as she described her hair, the shape of her face, facial markings, complexion etc.
A second sketch was made but now based on a description that somebody else gave of the same woman. There was a notable difference between the two sketches. I think you can guess in which sketch the woman looked more attractive. Not only was the second sketch more beautiful but also more true to life.
We need to censor our inner critic. The next time the critic takes the centre of the stage, you need to ask yourself these questions.
If the answer is NO, then your criticism is not valid, and it belongs in the trash.
4. Lack of affirmation
As artists, we get to spend endless hours in our studios, lost in thought, dreaming, painting, drawing, sculpting and creating. We need solitude to function, and often our own judgment is our only guide. As much as we need this solitude, we were also made for connection. When you are working by yourself, you can lose your sense of the big picture. Meaningful connections can help you to put a painting or a feeling into a new perspective.
Perfectionism flows out of a deep sense of not being worthy enough, and as artists, we can only thrive in an environment of genuine encouragement and affirmation. Allow others into your heart and space and let them express to you just how loved and worthy you are.
The Antiserum against Perfectionism
I have good news. Perfectionism can be conquered! I will tell you how I did it.
I used to be too ashamed to show people my unfinished paintings or drawings. If they did happen to get a peak of what I was doing, I would go to great lengths to explain that I was still working on it and that it was far from finished. … In other words, what I was saying was, ‘Please still like me! Please still think I am ok ... even if my art is not there yet!’
As my workload and my number of clients started to grow, so did the pressure to perform.
This pressure was not beneficial to my creativity, and I needed to get this monster out of the way.
I decided to take my art out of my studio and onto the streets — a great exercise in conquering my fear of rejection and embracing my vulnerability.
I remember going on a painting trip to Italy, where I spent glorious days painting the villagers and the beautiful Italian surroundings.
The locals were super friendly and would shamelessly hover over my sketchbook, expressing all kinds of things with theatrical gestures. I could not understand a word – but I heard their hearts. They felt so honoured because somebody saw them and took the trouble to come to their village to draw and paint them, no matter what the result looked like. I just smiled and kept painting.
Later I did the same in my hometown — painting and drawing on the streets whenever the weather allowed it. Creative work that is done in a public space stirs something in people. I had conversations I otherwise never would have had. In brief meetings, people told me that they once painted or how they felt inspired and wanted to go home and do something creative again.
As a bonus, I have been able to share more about my work and tell them that an artist was living in their village.
This has proven to be a great antiserum against perfectionism. It reminded me that my art is more than just the end product. It is a process I can share with others while enjoying the art myself.
Letting go of perfectionism has nothing to do with excellence. As artists, we strive to make good art, develop our skills and communicate our ideas, thoughts and feelings as clearly as possible.
While perfectionism refuses to accept anything less than perfect, excellence embraces reality, transforming imperfection into beauty.
In order to take steps overcoming perfectionism I have prepared this WORKSHEET for you. The questions will help you access the grip perfectionism has on your creativity and the exercises will help you move from perfect into releasing beauty.
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