Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Affliction of Perfectionism

I watched a TV programme where Steven Hawkins explained how the universe began. He explained that if it wasn’t for imperfection, the universe wouldn’t have begun. I was really impressed by this idea that nothing is really perfect. Imperfection is the interesting thing. Imperfection is where it all starts.

So I pose the following questions;

Is perfection achievable? Is it always interesting?

Does every piece of artwork I produce have to look perfect?

Moreover, in a learning environment is content more important than form? Or is the proof of ‘process’ the most important thing?

I would like to challenge the idea that during the artistic journey our work needs to be aesthetic.

Isn’t it the right of passage of every artist to make a mess as they learn? The form of our art work shouldn’t be as important to us as our willingness to venture through the creative processes. (Or dare I say, make mistakes.)

However, because we are producing work that is going to be viewed or seen by others, we think it should ‘look nice’. We really want people to say ‘That’s the best piece of artwork I have ever seen. I want to buy it, here have a million pounds.’

It’s the hope of every artist to be discovered. But sometimes we are impatient with our own road to discovery.

As someone who works with kids, I often reflect on how they learn. If it wasn’t for adults, kids would just mess up the world. They have no value for aesthetics. They see beauty in a different way to an adult with a conditioned mind.

Picasso said ‘Every child is born an artist; the problem is to remain an artist once we grow up.’ What this means to me is that some children have a wonderful ability to just create. They also have a contradictory trait. This contradictory trait is the desire to please people around them. They lose the ability and confidence to create as they try to please parents, teachers and culture.

I’m not taking about creating pretty pictures. I’m talking about the freedom to create without apology. Kids only say their drawings are not good once they compare their own picture with the pictures of others. Children don’t have the maturity to look at their drawing and say ‘Well, that was just one moment, what can I learn from that?’. This way of thinking, unfortunately doesn’t stop at childhood.

We all should accept that there are people who do things better than we can. It’s not wrong, it’s just life.

But constantly being shown only the best creates feelings of inadequacy and may eventually lead us to stop trying. Likewise it can also create feelings of creative competition. We may say to ourselves ‘How can I produce a more original idea than that?

It is true that inspiration can come from another’s work, but to use that competitive drive as our sole motive to create art can mean that we only engage with the same or similar themes as those which other artists are occupying themselves.

So many of us feel inadequate about our work and as students we ask ‘Is this right? Are we doing this right thing?’

We are told, ‘Do whatever you feel is best...but we prefer this.’ It can get confusing especially when preparing for assessment.

How much should we let other people’s opinions influence our work?

When is it appropriate to go with our gut feeling despite these outside opinions?

The problem with this argument is that there are many people who want to be told how what to do. They want to be guided so they can produce the best work to get the best mark. This is totally right if that is what you want out of your journey. But if you want to truly grow, shouldn’t the solutions come from within us. Even if that means producing work no-one likes for a while.

Sir Ken Robinson (an education guru) talked about how the education system kills creativity. He talked about how kids are being taught how not to make mistakes. He said ‘If we don’t make mistakes we never come up with anything original.’ I told my friend this and she was so impressed by this that the next day she said to her kids, ‘OK kids, when you go to school today, I want you to make a mistake.’ Her kids were shocked. ‘You want us to go to school, and be naughty?’ She then went on to explain to her children that mistakes help us grow.

It was really interesting to see that her children thought ‘mistakes’ were being ‘naughty.’

Obviously the idea of learning through mistakes doesn’t apply to everything as some things require constant good judgment, for example driving a car. However, when it comes to learning and the creative process, we can be experimental without putting anyone in danger (apart from our ego).

‘A characteristic of innovative creativity is that it’s messy, it’s not linear, it’s illogical, it’s emotional and the true innovative creator knows this.’ Norman Seef

Remember that when we see a great sculpture or painting, we don’t get to see how many attempts the artist had a producing that one piece, we don’t see them sat on the floor with their head in their hands saying to themselves ‘This isn’t working, how am I going to do this?’ We don’t see the process behind the work.

Carver Mead is a key pioneer of modern microelectronics describes his ideas as they emerge from the creative process. ‘This thing comes and there is no language for it, it comes as you push and pull. It comes little bits at a time.’

After much thought I think I’m deluded by the idea of perfectionism. As an artist I have some pretty big ideas. I can see those ideas and images in my head, but when I try to make those ideas a reality I realise I don’t have the ability yet. I am artistically immature. I shouldn’t make excuses for what I can’t do yet.

I am a work in progress... but aren’t we all?

Pippa Woo