The plight of perfectionists

0

Dear Artist,

Recently I’ve been looking into the business of perfectionism among painters. It seems to me most artists have a mild version of the condition. I’m also seeing a kind of obsessive perfectionism that really holds some artists back. Let me explain.

Social psychologists and forum leaders identify types of human machinations they often call “rackets.” Apparently we all run them. Rackets are blind spots, self-fulfilling games or internalized stories we keep repeating to avoid certain outcomes. For example, a painter may demand such high standards of himself that work never leaves the studio. Work is never quite finished. “Never quite good enough” is his racket.

Some artists need to look at the disabling that comes with over-perfectionism. They need to find out where it came from and what can be done about it.

Perfectionism is the opposite of audacity. It is the over-runner of intuition and the neutralizer of confidence. It is the mean little voice that says, “Noodling will get this thing right.” More overworked passages are wrought by perfectionism than this world dreams of.

When rackets are identified, there’s a root cause that cannot easily be dug out and released. The longer the racket persists, the more difficult it is to remove. An overly demanding, displeased parent, sibling or spouse, even from the distant past, is a common source. Guilt, fear and common garden-variety stubbornness play their part. These conditions and their sources need to be understood, analyzed and forgiven. While counselling may be necessary, vigorous introspection is often a good course.

The perfectionist artist may also suffer from the scourge of advice dependency. He is always looking for expert opinion to release himself from the eternal burden of making up his own mind. This is, of course, an impossible request. The artist must hold all skills within himself. As Picasso pointed out, knowing when to stop is just as important as knowing how to paint.

Perfectionism often hits artists in mid life. When you are a kid, you don’t know your own limitations and you just do it. A few failures or discouragements later and you start to lose your moxie. Perfectionism becomes chronic. Dedicated head vacuuming is in order. Re-accessing your child may be necessary. At the base of all of this is independent character-development and rugged self-control.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Done is better than perfect.” (Scott Allen)

Esoterica: A former Jehovah’s Witness of my acquaintance, now departed, painted only one painting that I know of. Taken to and from crits, her painting received changes or embellishments after each advisor had a go. In its final reincarnation it was not at all like it was at first. No matter what anyone said (like “Leave it alone,” or “Start another”), twenty or so human figures mysteriously appeared in the painting during a ten-year period. Also, a few extra lambs were lying down with the lions. As well as being “busy,” it was quite overworked. Curiously, posthumously, it was accepted into a group show, so what do I know?



The relationship of detail to overworking
by Robert Hagberg


032310_robert-hagberg-artwork

“Descending light”
original painting
by Robert Hagberg

How do you tell the difference between overworked and detail? How do you, personally, recognize when you have slipped over the edge of completing the details to overworking. As a realist I paint what many would consider very detailed paintings even though they are a far cry from the photorealism I used to create. Does level of detail equate to overworked? These are a few of the questions your article on perfectionism raised for me. I think I understand that you were really addressing a mental state and a condition that can get in the way of achievement. That said, I believe that it is a constant struggle to know when enough is enough.

There are 4 comments for The relationship of detail to overworking by Robert Hagberg

From: Virginia Wieringa — Mar 23, 2010

Wonderful painting. Your use of detail is spot on!

From: Liz Schamehorn, Canada — Mar 23, 2010

I think the definition of overworking is carrying on after something good has happened and proceeding to ruin it. Through experience we learn when to leave well-enough alone.

From: Valerie Norberry — Mar 23, 2010

On another Art Website, I read a confession of a History Buff artist who used little toy soldiers to set up a scene, take picture of it, print it with his computer, and paint in Casein. Now that is taking perfectionism to a boiling point, in my opinion. As long as you refer to such pieces of art as “illustrations” rather than “paintings” I am okay with that. However, leaning too heavily on photographs definitely ruins one’s calling, which I believe, as an artist, is to exaggerate, define, and embellish, as well as invoke some sort of cerebral or emotional response.

From: tikiwheats — Mar 23, 2010

knowing when enough is enough, even for just that day, that is the question. I find I have good energy for about 2 hrs, and then its all downhill and usually do a big “foobah” (sp) which discourages me and I don’t get a fixing it for quite some time (oils usually which need to dry). My perfectionism wants to get it right the first go and then proceed to a perfect conclusion. Yuck!





Painting ‘in the zone’
by Ingrid Christensen, Calgary, AB, Canada


032310_ingrid-christensen-artwork

“Galiano Girl”
original painting
by Ingrid Christensen

My favourite paintings have happened in the “zone”: the state of abandoned, confident play during which you can’t make a bad mark or mix an off colour. The painting just flows off the brush and all you have to do is stay open and catch it. But take a break, or make a phone call and the zone evaporates. Then the perfectionist comes back and starts tweaking a bit here and a bit there and soon enough the painting is dead. Interestingly, viewers can always tell which paintings were done with intuition and which with the perfectionist mind. They always prefer the former.

There are 3 comments for Painting ‘in the zone’ by Ingrid Christensen

From: Liz Schamehorn, Canada — Mar 23, 2010

Intuition doesn’t happen by magic. To get there we need to go through a painful, painstaking “perfectionist” learning stage where we eventually imprint skills into our brain so that they can just “flow” off the brush. I compare it to learning to write or drive a car.

From: Jeffrey J. Boron — Mar 23, 2010

Beautiful work Ingrid…stay in the zone!! Jeffrey

From: Valerie Norberry — Mar 23, 2010

“Leave a message at the shack and we’ll call you back,” from the Amish.





Plein air as cure for perfectionism
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


032310_brad-greek-artwork

“Seascape”
oil painting by Brad Greek

For me it was the power of plein air that freed me up. Whether due to weather conditions, time limits or just had to stop for some reason, defined the finishing point in the painting. I would say to myself that I’ll finish it at home, but usually leave it alone once I get there and look at it for awhile and see that it was finished. That, in turn, lead me to leave work as it was and not to worry about all the details. Sure I can bounce around from realism to representational abstract with a flick of knife or brush. I don’t worry about perfection at all.

There are 2 comments for Plein air as cure for perfectionism by Brad Greek

From: Raynald Murphy — Mar 22, 2010

Well said Brad, and I might add that when I don’t finish an on-site painting and try to finish it in studio too long after I tend to ruin it by thinking too much, by adding too many details for example, by switching to my analytic side of my brain rather than working intuitively which comes naturally because of time and uncomfort as you mention.

From: Valerie Norberry — Mar 23, 2010

Contour drawing and gesture drawings are also good disciplines and a way to break free from slavery to every detail.





The loop of perfection
by Jeanne Benson, Columbia, MD, USA


032310_jeanne-benson-artwork

“Crab apple”
original drawing
by Jeanne Benson

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way wrote about what she calls the loop of perfection: “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough—that we should try again.” “No. We should not,” she wrote and continues, “A book is never finished. But at a certain point you stop writing it and go on to the next thing.” Cameron wrote about ‘letting go’ as a part of the creative process. And the part that resonated with me, “We always do the best we can with the light we have to see by.” In the same paragraph Cameron quotes painter Paul Gardner, “A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.”





When is it overworked?
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands


032310_robin-shillcock-artwork

“Portrait of an earbasher”
oil painting by Robin Shillcock

It’s too easy to pull the debate into the extreme, to talk about obsessive or neurotic tendencies in artists, and then come up with simple-sounding solutions. Far more interesting is the middle ground. I know hundreds of artists and to my knowledge not one is an excessive perfectionist, though all, barring a few, are perfectionists of the “right kind.” Forget about the few that are mentally anchored in such a way that they turn in circles. Leave them to the shrinks.

So I ask you, at what point does perfectionism become a burden? In your thought-provoking letters you often touch on the “danger” of overworking a painting. When is a painting overworked? Artists that ride rough, defining objects with one slash of the brush (like yourself), often define the work of more finely wired artists as overworked. Is Holbein overworked? Wyeth? Is Monet, that gifted, endless, retoucher overworked?

Look at the surface textures of “slashers” like Zorn, Sorolla or Sargent, compared to their fluid strokes Rembrandt and Homer look like “diggers.” Perfectionism drove all these artists to become great commentators of the human condition. So when does good painterly texture become overworked?

Basically perfectionism is a good drive. It takes us to where we want to be: to a fine piece of work. It’s an incentive to reach just a little further. It has given us great entertainers like Chaplin, Leonard Cohen, wildlife artists George MacLean and Robert Bateman — all perfectionists in their trade.



The futzing perfectionista
by Julie Doornbos, USA


Oh yes. I am a perfectionist. Or, as I prefer to call it on days that I’m feeling particularly generous… a perfectionista! HA! But yes, I freely admit that I have a habit of working my paintings long after they look complete. I call it futzing. I recently wrote about this after I finished my most recent painting. While futzing greatly slows my productivity down, it can, at times, push me to be a better artist. So long as I don’t let the revisions get in my way of moving on to the next work… ah it is a delicate balance we futzing perfectionistas strike.

One of my favorite futzers was Norman Rockwell. He famously had a hand written sign taped to the top of his easel that read simply “100%” — and he meant it. It wasn’t uncommon for him to completely set aside a painting that was nearly complete and start all over again because he wasn’t satisfied with the direction of his work. This has caused some confusion now, particularly when seemingly identical copies of his work pop up and it turns out that one or more of them were simply given away before he began his final, complete version!



The return to play
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


032310_paul-demarrais-artwork

“Grand Entry”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Perfectionism comes from a child’s attempt to please mom and dad. Parenting paradigms shift with the times. My parents believed that it was healthy for their kids to strive to do better at all they did. You could ‘always do better.’ It’s a biblical message as well. The Bible discourages ‘boasting’ and humility is easier when you never get it quite right. The opposite parenting concept is the ‘esteem building’ when all the kid does is WONDERFUL! Isn’t he or she ‘fantastic’?! This is even a bigger curse in my view, producing unhappy, mediocre slackers without any goals to aspire to. The middle ground between these two is probably healthy. I think it is easier to recover from perfectionism than it is to suddenly adopt high standards. Artists need to learn to be easier on themselves, to respect their efforts and to shrug off the disappointment of never reaching the holy ground of the perfect painting. Most artists I admire learn to laugh it off, and to modify their obsessive self doubt with some attempts at esteem building. It is every adult’s job to recover from their parenting if necessary, then to redefine themselves to seek the wondrous spirit of the happy child. This job is even more important for the artist. Artists learn skills to gain control, then have to use those skills to relinquish control and to once more establish freedom in their work. Work has to become play again.

There is 1 comment for The return to play by Paul deMarrais

From: tatjana — Mar 23, 2010

Thanks for these thoughts Paul, you gave me an Eureka moment. We may value one kind of things, but still obliviously bend our behaviour to the conditioning we got from our parents.





The evolving nature of perfection
by Elsa Bluethner, Sunshine Hills, BC, Canada


Do you not look at older works and find ways to improve them? Do you not see older works and wish you had never let them out of your sight? Did Degas not take completed paintings off his patron’s walls back to his studio to rework them?

Often, when I paint something ‘new,’ I find I am quite pleased with it. When I show it to my mentor and he makes recommendations or suggestions, I see it with a fresh eye and new knowledge and realize it’s not as good as I thought. Some paintings I am pleased with today may yield different reactions in the cold grey light of dawn. In some that I did months prior (and didn’t know how to fix), it becomes blatantly obvious what needs to be done. A few still remain my preferred works and I have no desire to perfect them. Ones that tend to be over brushed, overworked, and just plain ugly, usually fall in the paint-over pile and are merely an exercise, a study or an experiment. I have probably never painted a masterpiece, yet, working towards achieving proficiency with technique and the tools will propel me to produce more creative and personalized work. That’s the ‘perfectionism’ I’m guilty of.



The work’s the thing
by Marv Skelton, Richmond, BC, Canada


One way to tell if a person is a perfectionist is to ask him what he thinks of his work. If he/she constantly replies, if they were to do it again they would do this or that differently, that is a sign of wanting perfection. Nothing is perfect for these people, yet they keep trying to obtain an unobtainable goal. I like your approach better, just do it. To me the best thing about painting is, I can create a piece of junk and still have a good day.



The insights of Kenny Werner
by Lindakay Rendina, CA, USA


I just wanted to share a book that an acting coach of mine turned me on to. It will help anyone with the plight of perfectionism. Although it is written mainly for jazz musicians, the content is just as applicable to artists of all mediums: writers, actors, painters, musicians, sculptors, etc. Anyone wanting to create from within and achieve a sense of total self-acceptance.

The work is that of Kenny Werner, a jazz pianist. The book/CD is called Effortless Mastery. He has also produced 2 DVDs, where he gives talks and goes through the process that is in the book.

I hope you post this because I have been using the book and DVD and find it to be an amazing and very simple approach to overcoming self-judgment, perfectionism, doing it “RIGHT,” making it look good, etc. He is also very entertaining to listen to.



Examining ‘THE AREA’
by Robert Borbas, Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada


032310_robert-borbas-artwork

“Potter’s Wheel”
watercolour painting
by Robert Borbas

OK, so I know I am guilty! Why do I overwork passages? As I stand back to evaluate an ongoing piece, whether I use distance or a mirror or standing on my head (not really, I do invert the piece when size allows), my eye immediately goes to THE AREA.

From now on, instead of jumping in because my brain says there is work to be done here, I shall explore why my eye is drawn to THE AREA. It may be a result of value, colour, shape, line, etc. It may only be a result of an intentional focal point.

When my eye is drawn, my brain says, justify yourself to THE AREA. It asks for explanation. Now here is where it gets tricky. Perhaps THE AREA should be accepted as a special invitation to the viewer to explore and interpret for himself. My ego gets in the way wanting to direct the viewer to see THE AREA the way I see it.

There are 2 comments for Examining ‘THE AREA’ by Robert Borbas

From: Pat — Mar 23, 2010

I love your painting. The colours and forms are wonderful.

From: dottie dracos — Mar 23, 2010

Wow!!! You hit it spot-on! THE AREA! Always my problem, but I never gave it a name before. Thanks. Love your work, too!





Going for the enchantment
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada


032310_tatjana-popovicki-artwork

“First Snow Over Vancouver”
original painting
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

I am no stranger to overworking a painting even though I am by no means trying to achieve perfection. This happens when I get a mental image of a scene that charms me, but the idea consists more of an enchantment than of a visual image. Since I am a realist, it’s not hard to guess what happens when I try to paint something that doesn’t visually exist. As I paint, I am playing a guessing game trying to figure out what enchanted me about the scene… it’s thrilling until the painting can’t bear any more guessing. I am learning to use this approach as experimental and not expect that a finished piece will necessarily show up at the end.

There is 1 comment for Going for the enchantment by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

From: Cody — Mar 23, 2010

I love your painting, the minimalist but vibrant colors and great diagonals in the composition.





Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA


032310_angela-lyon-artwork

“Red Sunset Mama”
pastel painting
by Angela Treat Lyon

In this week’s letter, you write:

Unfortunately, in my experience as someone who helps people with these challenges, I’ve seen that more often than not, introspection, analyzation and self-control are not enough. And forgiveness isn’t possible until the emotional charge of the situation has been disabled or transformed into another perspective.

These emotional patterns, or rackets, as you mentioned, are most times so deep-seated as to be invisible to the conscious mind. Thus, no introspection will find it; analyzation becomes just more talk about it but not healing it; and self-control only adds to the “I’m not good enough” when the control fails and the deeper feelings leak all over the place.

I’ve been a business success coach now for 10 years, and my main tool is EFT (the Emotional Freedom Techniques — I have seen it mentioned here once in a while) to help business owners, entrepreneurs, health practitioners, artists and performers dig up and turn around their self-hatred, lack of confidence, fears, anxiety, etc. (esp. around money and marketing!). These emotional tangles slow them down and stop them from expanding the success of their endeavors.

I teach them how to use the tool so they won’t be dependent on me, and when they really get it that they can use it for just about anything — well, it’s more than an amazing gift to be able to see the transformation in their lives on all levels.

It’s the only self-help tool I’ve seen that really does allow people to help themselves. Once one learns how to use it, it’s the key to the resolution of many patterns and rackets, allowing emotional freedom in the form of confidence, calm, and self-assurance to come in place of emotional, mental and physical pain.

When I was first introduced to it, I used it to completely eliminate — in a mere 6 weeks’ time — the pattern of suicidal thinking that had plagued me for over 35 years. As an artist, those thoughts and buried feelings completely devastated my life. Of course it’s been a long journey of finding the other little tendrils of thought-habit after that initial conquest, but instead of it being work and drudgery, my life and quest to snag and heal those little patterns has turned into a marvelous adventure — an attitude I’d have sneered out loud about if you had told me before that I would have it. What a relief.

Just ‘being with’ or trying to control or thinking about these patterns ain’t nuff. So I created a free how-to site for people interested in ditching their fears, anger, sadness, perfectionism, procrastination — whatever — by using this tool, if anyone is interested. The info on the site is not the be-all end-all magic one-time pill — it’s an intro to how to use a tool that is to be used on a long-term, life-freeing basis.

I recommend it to everyone — hence the name — EFT in Every Home. If I could have one wish, I’d wish that EFT was taught to all parents and in every school across the planet from the lowest grades and up.

There are 3 comments for Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) by Angela Treat Lyon

From: Karen — Mar 23, 2010

Angela, you are right! I have used EFT for many things, including sleeplessness, creativity in painting, and a sore back! It works, but a lot of people laugh when I tell them about tapping to do this. It is so easy, and is effective. You can do it in a few seconds. but we feel, I guess, if it isn’t an expensive treatment or a pill, how can it work? It DOES. Glad you mentioned it!

From: An — Mar 23, 2010

Be careful with suggesting that EFT is the tool for everyone. Depression is a serious thing and I for one do not relate to EFT at all. If you are struggling with depression, you may run out of time by delaying to see a professional while trying out alternative stuff. Training on CBT by a certified psychologist worked for me.

From: Theresa Bayer — Mar 23, 2010

Perhaps there is no such thing as a tool that works all the time for everyone. As for myself, I love EFT. I’ve found it to be a great help in my life. EFT is an art, and as I get more skillful in using it, it becomes more effective.





Comments

comments




Featured Workshop: Painting Cruise with Robert Genn
031610_robert-genn




    World of Art Featured artist Kim Fancher Lordier, CA, USA  
031910_kim_fancher-lordier-artwork

Reservation Road Red

pastel painting 20 x 16 inches
by Kim Fancher Lordier, CA, USA



You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Simon Reid of London, England, who wrote, “The error of perfection comes from the innate human desire of wishing to give too much. In art, less is more.”

And also Dustbuster who wrote, “The time to think about stopping is when you see yourself reaching for the smaller brushes.”



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The plight of perfectionists

   
From: DAN YOUNG / HAWAII — Mar 18, 2010

I’m taping the quote to the frig “done is better than perfect” Freeing….. and I chuckle…..

From: Finola Prescott — Mar 19, 2010

I know one such perfectionist and it’s not me. Interesting read, but what really got me to comment was the “Esoterica” – I was expecting some reference to something in the Jehovah’s Witness faith that was relevant to this condition, but no. How odd to mention that the person was a JH, what on earth does it have to do with anything? I wonder if she was a Catholic, Jew, Baptist…would that have been mentioned?

From: J.McDowell ..creston bc — Mar 19, 2010

Working in another medium (clay,specifically raku ) has taught me how to disengage form a piece of art i’m creating. You put time into forming,glazing etc. and then you hand it over to the fire.You have to let go.It,s the same with painting. I think the meaning of the word “Raku” in Japanese is,”You don’t get what you want”

From: Angus Rogers — Mar 19, 2010

Finola, the mention of lions laying down with lambs is indicative of JW heaven. The woman was perhaps continuing her legitimate wish for a perfect, ideal world, and she was doing her best to visualize it. One of the wonderful things about Robert’s writing is that it makes you think.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Mar 19, 2010

“If you try to be perfect then you won’t have time to get all your art out …and your paints will dry up!” (quote from a second-grade student :)

From: Dwight Williams — Mar 19, 2010

Perfect does NOT exist, at least not in the art world….and too many critics are like too many cooks. I love the second-grader’s comment.

From: Deborah Tidwell Holtzscheiter — Mar 19, 2010

I’m glad to say that as I mature I have learned to remind myself that perfect is what is allowed given the resources available… I find myself saying “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be done.” Very similar to the quote you gave! If I think something should’ve been different and/or perhaps better on a particular painting, I just remind myself to do it differently next time and MOVE ON!

From: Judi Pedder — Mar 19, 2010

I had an elderly student – one of many painting from a small photograph with the usual comments “but the photo has…..” One class she was really making headway with lovely hills of analagous colours and lots of freedom in her brush, and more water. My comments were encouraging and enthusiastic about what I could see as a major step forward – a real break-through for her. Suddenly she was flustered and shuffling her things – her reference photo had become buried! Success by ‘mistake’ – she had followed where the painting lead her and totally forgotten the photo – AT LAST! This lovely lady sat and stared at her work, quite stunned and thrilled at what she saw.

From: Darlene Gray — Mar 19, 2010

Busted! Perfectionism is my struggle in art, in all facets of life. And NO, I’m not going for counseling. With a lot of reading of letters like yours Robert, I have awareness now, that’s at least half the battle. I believe the origins of this disease came from a parent who was highly critical and the other parent who always caught me trying to take short cuts. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is the message no counseling can squash. This disease both defeats me some days, but on other days it’s what motivates me to try harder, go higher, expect better. I try to fight it off the most when I’m struggling with completion. I use it to my advantage when I am problem solving. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” also echoes in my head.

From: Terry Janovick — Mar 19, 2010

HA HA HA! That “fix it” was good! The letter…well…you must have been in my ‘studio’ actually …ever closer. “Perfectionism, over-runner of intuition and neutralizer of confidence…” you zeroed in, right on target! And how well you put those words together…to say it all. Thank-you!

From: Dennis Sterner — Mar 19, 2010

The path of a painter is no place for a perfectionist. Only God is perfect. If we attempt perfection, we will never be happy and never reach our goals. Indeed, some of the most appealing and beautiful features in a work of art can be the result of an accident while painting, or a wild brush stroke that speaks boldly, or simply knowing when to stop and call it done. This is not to say that we should stop working hard to create good art. We can’t allow our work to own us and cause us so much pain. And overworking a piece will ultimately ruin it. I know! I often don’t know when to quit.

From: Antoinette Ledzian — Mar 19, 2010

One thing that has never been a problem is “advice dependency” so I’m not sure I fit into the category of “typical” perfectionist, but I’ve grown into a very loose, relaxing, comfortable, non-judgmental creative place in my life where there are no limitations …. perhaps this happens naturally when one enters the age-young 60’s! Now I’m going to send this right off, before I overwork my thoughts!

From: Jenny Rasmussen — Mar 19, 2010

Having a tendency to ‘overwork’ a piece…even as a potter, throwing a piece, well overworked with clay often means your piece ends up in the slop bucket, rescuing not really an option except perhaps in the reclaiming of the clay for a new piece down the road. I was asked once, “Are you a perfectionist?” I thought about it for a moment and replied, ‘I don’t know, does a perfectionist think they are a perfectionist?” Being equally critical of my work as I am new to painting my question or comment is that I struggle somewhere between trying to ‘keep it simple’ and perhaps spending enough time on a painting? I can only hope with more practice, and perhaps more workshops/instruction can help me reach a happy medium.

From: Claudia Roulier — Mar 19, 2010

I usually stop short of where I think I should stop because it is easier to add and not subtract, although I have had to take things away. Idledale, Co

From: Peter Marsh — Mar 19, 2010

“Dedicated head vacuuming is in order.” Correct. Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.

From: Sandy Village — Mar 19, 2010

Dear Robert, this is the Best. Never thought of it this way, but now I do. I needed this thought. Thanks, Saint Marys, Georgia

From: Victor Taylor — Mar 19, 2010
From: A. Johnsen — Mar 19, 2010

Perfection is Death..

From: Gail Nash — Mar 19, 2010

I painted Jesus once, for a black baptist church. they wanted a mural done in 3 days. i spent 2 days scouring National Geographic magazines for a face that i might use – finally found a face (much quicker than Leonardo did). I worked in acrylics. i had little experience painting people. Animals were my thing. it looked very unfinished to me. but the congregation loved it and hung it front and center in their church. i was pleased but still wished i could have worked on it longer. Perfectionism took a backseat to a deadline and hugs from every member of the congregation.

From: L. D. Bass — Mar 19, 2010

Analysis Paralysis……….that’s what I call my racket. So, here’s the thing to do: the same thing that Screenwriters are advised to do: Don’t have anybody read your screenplay for approval !!!! Unfortunately, the non professional artist (like me) goes to lots and lots of those wonderful workshops where instructors are all to ready to tell the students how to “finish” their work. It was about after my 10th workshop that I decided to stop listening and do what Balzac said: “a book is never finished, only abandoned.” And when I started just abandoning my work……and leaving it the heck alone at the first sign of liking it……and thinking it might be finished, I started to frame stuff. Funny, nobody tells you when it’s framed that you need to take it out, and rework it. Santa Barbara, Ca.

From: Rosemarie Beresford — Mar 20, 2010

You made a lot of sense in this last bi-weekly. I quite often wonder how it is you have the time to investigate a topic such as this. Whatever or however, you are an inspiring writer and a fund of knowledge and most often wisdom. Toronto

From: Marti Lyttle — Mar 20, 2010
From: Jacqueline — Mar 20, 2010

Love the phrase “dedicated head vacuuming”. Glad I am not alone in constantly fighting the “babble” in my head! Your letters help the vacuuming process!

From: mars — Mar 21, 2010

There is no such thing as “perfect art”! I take a good look at the professionals work — when in a gallery — a;lways find something–that leaves me wondering. At one point saw a cow — the body was much too long–think it was Rubins-n ot sure — but one of those famous ones — so felt much better -about my painting-there is always something left 2 be desired!!

From: Lynne Cunningham — Mar 21, 2010
From: Terry Mason — Mar 21, 2010

I won a prize last week at a paint out. The fact that the juror liked it was terrific. The fact that I liked it was sublime. I had one artist tell me that he usually likes his own work about a half hour. I am working towards lasting a half hour. Perfectionism can be paralyzing. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a good hard critique and perfectionism. The measure I use is that if I DO something about the criticism then I am moving.

From: Doug Pollard — Mar 21, 2010

The Duke of Edinburgh once published a book of bird photographs he had taken on his many trips to exotic places. Knowing his limitations, he stated at the outset “If a thing is worth doing, its worth doing badly” – not something my dear wife can agree with however. Incidentally, his son Prince Charles published a charming book of his own watercolours, but with so many self-effacing comments that one wonders what he might have achieved had he had the right encouragement. Neither of them had pretensions about their pastimes, but the books provide windows into unexpected aspects of these otherwise high-profile royals.

From: Mona Youssef BFA — Mar 21, 2010

You asked the question “so what do I know?” You know a lot but none of us know it all. An acquaintance of mine was rejected by a Jury. I was well convinced with her artwork and stood for her. I was not a jury but an artist with a conviction of what art is. Eventually she was accepted and since then she has been receiving many awards and selling her art. What did the jury know? Probably a lot, but didn’t open their mind to know more.

From: Jean Fournier — Mar 21, 2010

I’ve suffered from this kind of nonsense myself. I did acquire this addiction from another artist who is guilty of overworking a piece. She is my Guru. I learned how to paint from her. I finally managed to kick the habit mostly due to personal deadlines and getting enough paintings together for shows.

From: Graham Cracker — Mar 21, 2010

My “racket” is not about the inability to finish work. My racket is not being able to start.

From: S. J. Bridges — Mar 21, 2010

Okay, I vacuumed my head. Now there’s nothing in there. Now what?

From: Doug Mays — Mar 21, 2010

‘Painting like a child’ is a process that takes years to learn, unlearn and relearn. The sooner we can return to the ‘relearn’ stage, the sooner we will paint with ‘spontaneity’ and what I call ‘expressive freedom’.

From: Peter Heinrich — Mar 22, 2010

Almost 40. That’s how many projects I have currently on the go. As Buzz Lightyear once said “you’re a sad, strange little man”. To my defense, some are reproductions of Rembrandt, where it simply has to look as equal as possible. Down to the impasto brush strokes. In other cases, I’m not sure if there is a defense. I’ve either started a work beyond my abilities at the time, and so they sit, waiting…. or I’m not sure. The introspection is ongoing. I have other rackets as well, maybe when I’ve solved this one perfectly I’ll go on to the others!!

From: Bob Ragland — Mar 22, 2010

I think it’s a waste of time ,waittng to be perfect. I have encountered would be artists, who are afraid to make a mistake in their drawing or painting. Perfectionism is not a good thing.

From: May Fenstermacher — Mar 22, 2010

Most of my painting is en plein air. I have an unusual criterion for completion: when I’m bored, I stop. Later I either like the work or don’t. If not, out it goes. Usually I can make the decision to keep or toss on this basis: if I had the money, and didn’t have the painting, would I buy it for myself? I’m sure I’ve thrown out paintings that others would like, but I don’t particularly care. My significant other has pulled paintings from the trash. As long as it doesn’t leave the house (or garage), I tell him, and I don’t have to look at it….

From: Linda C Dumas — Mar 22, 2010
From: Raynald Murphy — Mar 22, 2010

More students – like the one in Judi Pedder’s class above – should lose or bury their photos. I definitively believe working from a photo directly (copying it) rather than using it as an “aide memoire” has become a trap to produce a lot of technically good art bu creatively weak art.

From: Carol Kairis — Mar 22, 2010

Perfectionism is realitive, we all have inherited a substandered measure which to compare ourselves, inherited imperfection, rather within our society or ourselves. The quest to give ..within such inbalance for the right motive, preseverence & enrichment to others truely is the gift. Rewards come OUTWARD…forever endearing.

From: Brad Greek — Mar 23, 2010

The upside to all of this is that I’ve seen a market for both. Some like it overworked and very detailed and tight, some like the looser look.

From: Janet Mohler — Mar 23, 2010

It is often impossible to capture all the aspects of your subject in one artwork. Trying to include all aspects is perhaps what leads to overworking? That is why I like to work in a series, I can change the emphasis in each piece.

From: Rodney Mackay — Mar 23, 2010

From Ghoulies and Ghosties and long-legged beastie…and perfectionists… May the good Lord deliver us! I am messy, quick and ambivalent about my work. Possibly a hyper adult at age 76? Is there anything more?

From: Kristina Zallinger — Mar 24, 2010

I am a recovering perfectionist…

From: Karin — Mar 24, 2010

I have just completed a painting that was to be the perfect picture and I could always find one more thing that bothered me. I finally signed it and will remember this letter. Thank you, I do enjoy your letter. nfkziggy@cable-lynx.net

From: Harold Skinner — Mar 24, 2010

I have missed entering our art guild’s show for the past two years “because my paintings were simply not good enough”. This seems to be something new that has hit me because I used to regularly enter three or four paintings. You have really given me something to think about. Thank you so much.

From: Rodney Mackay — Mar 24, 2010

…and perfectionists…”may the good Lord protect (and deliver) us!” I am quick, deliberate and non-perfect when I paint! I like untidiness, paint dabs left unresolved, fag-ends and accidental effects. In the current economy. I feel wrong about all this! After all this time, should I opt for perfection? http://rodneymackay.com

From: Dana Mosby — Mar 24, 2010

Your letter came at a most opportune time. I have a number of students who are perfectionists and accomplish very little. I have a better understanding of the problem and can hopefully guide them to “get it done!”

From: Catherine Nixon, March 29,2010 — Mar 29, 2010

I guess I’ve still got a streak of the dreaded disease but I’m a lot more aware of it’s dangers. Within the limits of my Virgoan personality, I continuously remind myself, relax, let go. It’s like when you can only see a star by not looking right at it .

   
Share.

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.