How Artistic Perfection Can Hold You Back

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Yesterday, I was randomly thinking about a mass email I had to send at my last 9-5 job. I was on the finance team at an IT company and we were rolling out big changes to our billing system. I wrote an email to inform our clients about the changes–and I proofed the sh*t out of that email. I read it at least 30 times–and then I made my boss read it, and then I read it again.

If you know me at all, you are fully aware I am a worrier. I evaluate every single detail I can about a situation until I am too exhausted to take any sort of action. As I hovered over the send button on this email, my over-analysis paralysis was overwhelming. 

What if there is a typo? Did I screw something up? Is this change going to upset people? Should I word this differently? Is it clear enough? How is this going to bite me in the ass?

All those thoughts, worries, and nervous sweats and so little action. 

This situation is ridiculous. It was a single email with a limited audience–and I was laughing at myself when I remembered how anxious it made me. Right now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with artistic perfection. Let me tell you, all of the anxious tendencies I had in an office setting transferred perfectly into my art business.

What does mental paralysis by perfection look like as an artist?

You should want to do your best when you work on your passion. It’s reasonable to worry about the quality of what you produce, but there are times when those worries will hold you back. Many many times.

Here are some examples of how how you can be held back:

  • Not moving onto the next work of art because you’re stuck on your current project.
  • Not posting on social media, because you don’t have the right caption, photo, or hashtags.
  • Not updating your following on events, sales, or new art.
  • Not applying for an event, because you don’t think your work is good enough yet.
  • Not connecting with other creators, because you don’t think you’re on their level.
  • Not promoting yourself.
  • Not making business cards.
  • Not pricing your work.
  • Not launching an online store or website.
  • Not accepting compliments.

My inaction often comes from my fear of not doing things the right way. The “perfect” way.

Perfection paralysis is a really simple formula. If you find yourself saying anything like: I can’t do X until I do Y. But Y also comes with it’s own barrier–then you might be trapped.

Like this:

“I can’t create an online store until I take nice photos, and I can’t take nice photos until I find a better camera, and I can’t get a better camera until I sell a piece of art to have the money for new equipment, but I can’t sell a piece of art until I have an online store, and good online stores aren’t free either.”

Perfection paralysis. But think about this for a second–

Perfection is Bullsh*t

Unless you are making bridges, buildings, or medical devices–perfection is a waste of time. Mainly because, perfection is subjective. It’s definition is different for everyone.

The best example for the subjective nature of perfection I can think of involves food. Ever sit down with friends or family for dinner and have one person think a meal is too salty and then someone else liberally add salt to their plate? Perfection is preference.

Redefine Perfection if you are a perfectionist

Are you constantly stuck by your need to keep tweaking a project? Maybe one more brush stroke here, or extra shading there. How much time do you spend evaluating what can be changed on your work? Or how often do you do nothing at all because you think you need different tools to even get started?

Start thinking about perfection as “The best I could do in this situation given my skill set and available resources”.

So if you want to start an online store, evaluate the resources you have available and where your skills are. Only have a smart phone camera and $5 in your checking account? Yeah, you can make a store with that. Sure, it may not fit your vision of perfection–but the goal is to get it done and move forward. End the perfection paralysis.

When you know you can do better, you still need to move onto the next project. You will continue to improve with each project you start and finish. If you never finish your current project and just keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, you deny yourself the opportunity to improve. If you ignore resources you currently have because you know there are better resources out there that you don’t have access to, you force yourself to stay still. No progress. No forward momentum.

When you are at the end of a project, as yourself: Is this the best you could do with your current skill set and resources?

If yes, it’s perfect–move onto the next project.

No? Well, it’s not perfect, but you should still move onto the next project. Take the lessons you’ve learned from that piece of art and apply it to the next. There comes a time where you have to say “It’s good enough” and hit send.  

Post that imperfect art on social media. Start that online store. Sign the corner of that piece you’ve been stuck on. Make business cards out of cardstock and your crappy printer, or paint a cute social media banner for customers to snap a picture. Do what you can with your current skill set and resources today.

***

Does perfection ever hold you back? Do you have any tips for other creators on how to move forward? I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

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