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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. To be a perfectionist is to procrastinate living life and allow your precious time to “melt away”… like this painting by Spanish Surrealist, Salvadore Dali. 

Let’s strive to do away with perfectionism in the months ahead. I wish you and your students a “Perfectionism-Free” New Year!


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  1. 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!