Being a Perfectionist is Killing Your Craft
Over the years talking with artists I found one thing that all of them have in common, they are their own worst critic. There’s this underlying perfectionist mindset that is admirable at times, but I feel like ends up hindering them more than anything else. It’s not that they shouldn’t try to do the best work they can, but chasing perfection can be dangerous. After all, Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” and that guy knew a little something about art.
Being a perfectionist is a curse that most creative people live with. They create these impossible standards they feel they need to live up to in order to have their work be worthy for other humans to look at. I know I’ve done it to myself more often than I care to admit, and like I said earlier it seems that almost every artist I’ve talked with does it to themselves on a daily basis. However, I think that da Vinci really does have a philosophy that almost all of us should embrace.
For one thing, there is no such thing as perfection. It’s an abstract concept that is completely subjective. What’s perfect to me might not be perfect for you, and what’s perfect to you might not be perfect to Joe Schmoe, but Mr. Schmoe has always been a bit of a jerk. If you’re having a hard accepting that, then let me throw something else out there that might help: Perfection is boring. It’s the flaws that make things interesting. Just look at any comic book, does a single superhero look like an actual human? Every one of them has impossible proportions and single digit body fat. Trust me, I’m not one of those people who gets mad about how heroes and villains are portrayed, but when it comes to capturing real life, comics are so far from perfect, it’s ridiculous. Still, people love them.
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s no shame in wanting to put out the best work that you possibly can or pushing yourself to do better and better. Being a perfectionist though is just a way of procrastinating on improving your skills though. Sitting and torturing yourself over a piece that was done two hours ago is preventing you from moving on to something new. The one piece of advice I’ve always heard about being an artist is if you want to be a good one you have to do it every day. By sitting there worrying that something just isn’t good enough when you’ve already tried your best, you’re preventing yourself the opportunity to work even more and grow as an artist. Being a perfectionist is literally stopping you from being better.
Abandoning your art is a hard concept to embrace. It might even feel like you’re giving up on something that your scumbag brain keeps telling you could be better. But abandoning something that is complete is not giving up, it’s letting you move forward. Stagnation is a creatives worst enemy. Trying to be a perfectionist is only going to lead to that, and if you’re standing still, you’re not moving forward. Just tell yourself that this piece might not be perfect, but the next one will be even better. They say that it takes 10000 hours to master something, but what they won’t tell you is the hours spent staring at a panel or canvas trying to figure out every little flaw don’t count.
Like I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do your best and put out the best work you possibly can. Every creative should take the time to look over their creation before moving on. Fixing mistakes is part of the process. Trying to find mistakes to fix though is not. So, don’t be a perfectionist. Be an artist.