Perfect is a Pain
Art really is the most wonderful thing. It’s an expansive discipline that embraces all and any type of creation within its magnanimous folds. The only filter (in my opinion) that should come into play to differentiate ‘good’ art from ‘bad’, is the intention behind it and the amount of genuine love and care that went into making it. So ‘bad’ art immediately stands out because of its lack of soul, and ‘good’ art remains good because even if you don’t like the physical form it takes, you can’t quite deny that it’s saying something. And that’s it! It’s as easy as that. Sure, there may be rules about perspective and proportion and yada yada, but after having been through the rigour of art school and drawn my fair share of cubes and cups and stiff models – I truly believe that there’s more to art than that. That’s the basis, sure, and you can benefit from learning that in the same way that grammar will help you construct a more meaningful sentence – but that’s all it is – grammar. And to be honest – even if you do draw a terrible figure that’s pivoted entirely around a pair of magnificent eyebrows and not much else – WHO’S COUNTING? It’s just a piece of paper, and that piece of paper can as easily go into the bin if the result is too painful to look at – with none the wiser.
Somehow though, this understanding evades some of us – starting from the littlest of us. I’ve seen the kids I teach cry because an artwork doesn’t look ‘good’, or, even worse, I’ve seen them cling tightly to drawings subjects that they have been ‘taught’ by someone. So you ask them to draw the mango tree that’s in front of them, and you’ll get at least 2 kids coming back to you with palm trees on a beach. These notions of the one perfect artwork, seems to become the peak of their creative prowess – which is painful to watch in kids, who are meant to be free spirits and really are the best artists.
But when I look at myself, despite all my beliefs and the wonderful art education I received, it’s still a nerve-wracking experience putting brush to paper. Within the split second that it takes to collect all the materials I need to make an artwork, I’ve already seen the final product in my mind, assessed it, assumed it falls short, and decided to not even begin to make it. And it’s not just me. Countless creatives I speak to or read about echo this – a fear of a crappy outcome, that falls short of a 'perfect' ideal - this fear is so real that it’s not worth getting started. And it makes me think of and grieve for all the artwork that could have been - had I just gotten started.
There are so many wonderful things floating out there in the ether – ideas, connections and sparks that sometimes land in your mind – and they really should see light of day. Not because the world needs them, or because maybe you’ll be able to monetise them or something – the world will go on just fine without them - but because you need them as the sparks that mark your days and imbibe within them, your entire world as it was in that moment. The idea that you’d give that up because of your fear that it could suck, or that someone else would say it’s awful - it’s just laughable. I’d like to be able to look back at my life as a collection of moments recorded in pigment and paper – even if the only thing great about them is a gorgeous pair of eyebrows I managed to get right that one time.
And as for art education - how can we remove notions of perfection from the act of making art by focusing more on the joy of making, than on the outcome? Perhaps it requires a rehaul of the words we use while describing art, where we speak glowingly of the kid’s process rather than of how wonderful the outcome is. Maybe we need to show lots and lots of varieties of art, to show the kids that there isn’t one right way of drawing a tree. Maybe as educators, we could be more open, egoless and show the kids all our mistakes, so they no longer think of us as messiahs of art with one right answer. Maybe we can decide to love everything these tiny beings create - warts and all- because it can’t hurt to do so, but it can hurt if we don’t. Maybe we can display the messiest artwork of the bunch in full glory on a hallway bulletin board. The solution is probably a mash-up of all of these and more, but we’ve got to get on with it double quick so that every kid (and subsequent adult) won’t think twice before putting brush to paper