Wishing You a “Perfectionism-Free” New Year

"Vincent's Bedroom in Arles", October 1888

Vincent’s Bed­room in Arles”, Octo­ber 1888

“As a painter I shall never really count, I can feel that absolutely.” ~ Vin­cent Van Gogh, 1889, Arles

Vin­cent Van Gogh never knew what a great artist he was. His paint­ings sell for mil­lions today, yet in his life­time, he only ever sold one paint­ing. What fas­ci­nates me is that he didn’t let this stop him.… he kept paint­ing. Even when he received no out­side appre­ci­a­tion for his work, he painted because his work meant some­thing to him. He didn’t worry about pleas­ing oth­ers or mak­ing each paint­ing per­fect.… he just painted.

Per­fec­tion­ism is an unre­al­is­tic goal because as humans we are nat­u­rally imper­fect. In their book “Art & Fear”, David Bayles and Ted Orland said,

“If you think good work is syn­ony­mous with per­fect work, you are headed for big trou­ble. Art is human, error is human, ergo, art is error. Inevitably, your work will be flawed. Why? Because you’re a human being.” 

It’s not unusual to find one or two stu­dents in every class who strug­gle with per­fec­tion­ism. Noth­ing they do meets their own per­sonal (and unat­tain­able) stan­dard of per­fec­tion, no mat­ter how hard they try. Their efforts often end in tears and/or giv­ing up, even though their work may be won­der­ful and they just don’t see it. I’ve observed this as early as kinder­garten and on through adult­hood. I strug­gle with this myself at times, which is maybe why I see it so eas­ily in my students.

As an Art teacher, it’s always been one of my great­est desires to help stu­dents rec­og­nize per­fec­tion­ism when it strikes and to under­stand that it’s an impos­si­ble goal. Van Gogh’s bold, coura­geous cre­ativ­ity is a great exam­ple of what can be achieved when we don’t let per­fec­tion­ism get in the way.

“Begin­ners think there is some sort of ideal per­fec­tion toward which all artists strive, that ulti­mately all artists want to be able to cap­ture real­ity with pho­to­graphic accu­racy. In truth, art is about the indi­vid­ual through whom vision is chan­neled.… No one is like you. Be your­self and you will be unique.” ~ Danny Gre­gory, “The Cre­ative License”

I always remind my stu­dents, “Only God is per­fect”. Per­fec­tion­ism causes pro­cras­ti­na­tion and fear of fail­ure, and robs us of the joy we can expe­ri­ence in being cre­ative. Let’s strive to do away with per­fec­tion­ism in 2014. I wish you and your stu­dents a “Perfectionism-Free” New Year!

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2 Responses to Wishing You a “Perfectionism-Free” New Year

  1. Artmuse January 1, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Thank you for your inspir­ing post!

  2. Kristin January 2, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    What an inspir­ing thought — and so accu­rate! I vis­it­ing the Phillips Col­lec­tion in D.C. last Fri­day for the Van Gogh exhibit; which is entirely about his mul­ti­ple paint­ings of the same spot/theme/subject. It was amaz­ing; and to the point, that you can try and try again!!
    Happy New Year!
    Kristin recently posted..Happy 2014!My Profile

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