Yes, I think too much

Perfection and Creativity

with 2 comments

One of the last tracings I did, though this one was for practice in order to increase my technical prowess acquisition in Adobe's Illustrator program

When I was younger, I was very artistic in the more conventional manner in which people conceptualize art. That’s a very roundabout way of saying that I liked to draw and paint. I’m not sure when I started to draw, but I do recall around the age of 10 that people started to notice that I was pretty good at it for my age. My sister was a reader, and I was a drawer. This was one of the many ways in which our personalities were separated.

I pursued art in myriad ways as I got older including leathercraft, building montages, and doing calligraphy in addition to daily doodles and sketches. I would produce dozens of quick ball-point pen sketches per day in addition to doing more focused work with pencil on occasion. In retrospect, I’m slightly amazed at the quantity of my work in the years up to my graduation from high school.

Around the age of 12, I started painting on my bedroom walls. The first thing I painted was a huge (bigger than my height and covering an entire section of wall) stylized horse on a cliff in black and white. If one walked up or down the stairs, it was the first thing one would see as it was on the wall facing the steps. As I got older and my skills improved, I started to feel uncomfortable about this piece of work. Instead of it being a source of pride, it became a source of embarrassment for the imperfections in the technique that seemed to glare at me.

Eventually, and much to my mother’s disappointment, I decided to paint over the horse and promised that I’d recreate it in a more skilled fashion. The truth was that I couldn’t bear looking at my work anymore and I didn’t have a strong inclination to do it again as horses had lost my interest by the time I painted over that one. At that point in time, I was more interested in painting the rock stars I was infatuated with on my walls, and had done several paintings of them or their album covers on other walls in my bedroom.

In my college years, I became increasingly frustrated with my incomplete artistic skill. I practiced and I tried to get things right in terms of perspective, balance and proportion, but I always found that my own particular style limited me. No matter what I drew, it held a certain element of softness and a signature look that I couldn’t shake. I came to hate this so much that I “gave up” on actually drawing and focused instead on becoming a hand-drawing photocopier. I would compensate for my lack of ability to exactly reproduce something by tracing the skeletal outlines and then using my skill with shading to make it come alive. While I was still employing some of my talent and style in filling in the blanks, I was no longer allowing my limits to show by tracing the basic structure.

I hid the fact that I was tracing the outlines from people who looked at my work. It was both embarrassing to me that I couldn’t do it perfectly by hand and that I was presenting my work as “mine” when it wasn’t really the product of my skill alone. It was a guilty secret that I kept for a long time. After awhile, I began to lose all confidence that I could draw freehand at all, and my skills deteriorated as a result of a lack of practice. Eventually, I stopped working on drawing altogether except for the odd bit of sketching here and there every 5 or so years to see if that part of me was still alive somewhere.

Only last night, when I was pondering creativity and perfection did I realize that my perfectionism strangled this part of me. Perfectionism has been with me all of my life in a multitude of ways and has been sabotaging many parts of it and undermining my ability to be happy with myself. By holding my artwork up to an impossibly high standard, I took all of the joy and sense of accomplishment out of it. When I was a child, people complimented me on my imperfect ability. As an adult, I could see no value in anything but “perfection”.

Beyond my artistic ability lapsing as a result of my desire to always be perfect, it also has sabotaged my attempts to lose weight, and made me ridiculously hard on myself in regards to work. Every time I made the smallest mistake on the job, I’d be incredibly angry at myself and embarrassed to have slipped up. In regards to losing weight, it brought on an all or nothing attitude which made it impossible to carry on for very long. One bite of the “wrong” food or one meal in which I over-ate, and the day was “ruined” and I felt I might as well just eat as much as possible and start anew tomorrow.

Perfectionism has also caused me to give up on various projects, or trash the results of them. It frequently places me in a mood of defeat and makes me decide not to keep trying. I still have this sense with me, but I’m fighting it and trying to take a more balanced approach to life. It doesn’t help that the world is full of people who anonymously criticize and attempt to tell you how everything you’re doing is wrong and you will ultimately fail. They do this because they have to feel they are right and you are wrong, and someone who has a better ego structure than me would simply brush off their criticisms. For a perfectionist though, there is little worse than people finding potential cracks and pointing them out to you.

One of the things I have to work on now is not allowing perceived or real notions of imperfection to hold me back. I also have to keep in mind that very few ┬ápeople judge the quality of my life experiences or work by an objective standard. They judge me by subjective, highly personalized notions and often by the need to find fault in me in order to elevate themselves. Ultimately, my judgement has to be the one of the most importance, but it also has to be based on an attitude of what is realistic and worthwhile, not on a basis of “perfection”.

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Written by yesithinktoomuch

September 15, 2010 at 12:49 am

2 Responses

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  1. Eileen,
    Very intersting post. I know you’re going to guess this, but I struggle with perfectionism also. Interestingly enough I recently spent some time with my mother. I don’t know why, but I never observed prior to this visit that she too is a perfectionist. What I had also never observed was how often she finds fault in everything I do. When I was cleaning the ears of corn, I left a few strands of silk, when I dusted I had missed a spot, in cooking there was never the right amount of spice (never mind that I am now 10 times the cook she ever was) All of her corrections were subtle. Now that I notice them, they offer a loud and clear message from my childhood.
    I like the title of this blog. For several months now, I’ve become aware that I don’t think enough. I like reading your posts….they help me think.

    MIS

    September 15, 2010 at 5:36 pm

  2. I think a lot of women struggle with it. Part of it is that society imprints the idea that we should be perfect on us (especially in regards to appearance, but we’re also expected to be high achievers all around now).

    Like your mother, mine was also always finding fault. I think a lot of how we get this way really is related to our upbringing. I have considered why mothers do this, and have concluded that it really was related in my case to my mother’s low self-esteem. Making me feel like I was lacking made her feel like she was better. As someone who has been away from her behavior for a long time, it doesn’t trouble me anymore, but at the time, it really didn’t do much for my relationship with her.

    Thank you for your kind words about my posts. I really appreciate it!

    yesithinktoomuch

    September 16, 2010 at 8:07 am


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