Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Insights from the Blog of Jill Badonsky
Perfectionism is Creativity’s Evil Step Sister ￼ In the early part of the century, I used to paint prolifically with the man I was living with at the time. We would venture out to the everywhere of landscapes, coffee shops, and unsuspecting people to paint in watercolor and outline in ink. We would bring home copious amounts of half-done works, a lot of crap, and maybe an accidental masterpiece. I didn’t like many of the paintings I did. I didn’t like most of the paintings he did. He liked everything we both did. I kept my painting-mishaps because sometimes I would use the other side for another painting or rip them up to make collages. My partner would frame all of his paintings with glass and black electrical tape and hang them in cafes and hair salons around town. He had this unspoken acceptance that all of his paintings were worth framing. I would cringe at the framing job, I would smirk at his paintings, and I would wince at the fact that he hung them in public, but I was in awe of his courage. Audacity was an inspiring trait of this man. Having boundaries was not. One day I walked into a café and saw a painting of mine that I despised, and it was framed and hanging. There was my blunder, framed for everyone to see. I was exposed. I had given no permission for him to do this. The painting wasn’t even finished. I was horrified and angry and I’m pretty sure a dramatic scene went down when I got home. The next day I went to retrieve my painting… and guess what? It had sold. Whaaaat? Someone had bought and hung my atrocity in their living room AND IT WASN’T EVEN FINISHED. I met the buyer and innocently, hiding my horrification, asked “So, what do you like about it?” She said “Well, everything especially the unfinished look.” Really? I experienced one of those cellular changes where the epiphany is greater than the sum of the painting. How is it that I couldn’t see the beauty someone else could see in my work? Was I doing good work and not even knowing it? Am I not even my own audience? I was sad, excited, confused, and inspired to paint more. I had no idea that my standards for what was considered “good” might be suspect. ￼ T.S. Eliot said, "Between the idea and the reality ... falls the shadow." How we think our art and writing should look and what actually happens is often out of our control. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be something as good or better than we planned. If we are attached to the vision of what it MUST look like, we are robbing ourselves of the pleasure that can come from going with the flow and looking for what the work itself wants to become… and then accepting it as the wonder it is. Since then I’ve received a great deal of feedback from readers of the books I’ve illustrated and I can see that my art is not that bad. But it took a lot of looking through the eyes of the people who appreciate it to dissolve the deep-rooted illusion that wanted me to believe my art sucked. Perfectionism is creativity’s spiteful and wicked step-sister. She dismisses the compliments of others as ignorant or uninformed, she towers over us with a disapproving look on her face that robs us of the joy in the process, she insists that we keep our work to ourselves to avoid the embarrassment of others seeing our ineptness. She needs to be stopped. The wall that perfectionism builds through her rigid demands and unbending standards can hide the sweetness that comes with savoring our own work. One of the biggest joys of making something is to appreciate its reflection of our divine ability to bring something new into existence. It’s our soul’s signature writing itself for us to see. . . and applaud. Not everyone will be our audience and that’s okay. But if we hold to relentless standards, we will have a hard time believing anyone would be our audience. And that’s just sad. ￼ How do you get to the place where you enjoy your creative work without unknowingly dismissing it because of the insidious influence of unreasonable expectations? When I run workshops, I see the beauty of what others write and create but when I compliment them, I see their inability to sometimes accept my praise as real. Commonly I ask them to put their art or writing away and revisit it a week or month later. Often we can appreciate our work more later, when we forget the expectation we were trying to meet the moment we did it. Perfectionism sees in black and white. Either it’s perfect or it’s unacceptable. She’s never pleased because, really, "perfect" is not possible. She doesn’t pause to love the serendipity and magic in the process nor is she satisfied if someone else tells us we’ve done well. Perfectionism is a party-pooper. One way to break her hold on us and challenge her distorted reality is to ask questions. Questions give the subconscious time to sneak out of perfectionism’s relentless bondage as it discovers answers that render her a fake. Here, quick. If perfectionism is near-by, ask these: What would it feel like to simply enjoy the process just 5% more, no matter the result? Could I act as if I enjoy what I’m doing and accidentally find myself lost in the bliss that creativity offers? What would it feel like to believe in what I’ve done, to share it confidently, to love it even if it hasn’t reached unnecessarily high standards? What would it feel like to believe the compliments of others just 5% more? Shifting just 5% in a direction other than “all or nothing at all thinking” strips perfectionism of her credibility. Without that pressure, the world widens and lengthens into the dozens of whirligig possibilities just waiting for our enjoyment. And if we find ways to have fun, perfectionism won’t know what to do… Take that you inconsiderate, misguided task-master! Claim your audacity. Share your half-finished works with the world. Frame them with boldness and defiance. And make it fun.