Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Perils of Perfectionism

What could possibly be the downfalls of perfectionism? Paying attention to details, getting everything just right - that's a good thing, isn't it? If one doesn't get too obsessive about it, there are definite benefits. There is nothing wrong with creating work that reflects technical skill in one's field and that is professionally and neatly finished. However, the strive for perfection can also cause paralysis, inaction, stress, feelings of frustration, and lack of satisfaction with the end result. Ask me how I know.

I have only become aware of my tendency toward perfectionism in the past few years. And I have realized that, at times, it can be a problem for me with my art. I want everything I create to be a wonderful work of art. This has caused me to sit and stare at a piece for days because I was afraid to "ruin" it. It has also stifled experimentation, because I felt that I didn't want to "waste" my time not really creating anything. When I have experimented, oftentimes I haven't been satisfied with the results. They didn't meet my high standards and weren't "good enough".

Becoming aware of my tendencies toward perfectionism has helped me overcome some of the negatives. And over the past few years, I have really made an effort to take that next step on a piece of art and not worry about "ruining" it. I have also allowed myself more time for trying out new techniques and that has helped my art grow and evolve. Despite all this, I continually have to monitor my thoughts to override some of those old messages.

I had a wonderful breakthrough last week in working on a project. It was a commission, so I put even more pressure on myself. It wasn't just about my satisfaction with the end result, I wanted my client to be satisfied as well. After I dyed the piece, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't "perfect", because it did not look exactly like the vision that was in my head. I toyed with the idea of handpainting the cloth to try to get closer to my vision. I waffled back and forth for a few days about whether to leave it or change it. Then, I had an insight one morning. I realized that the cloth was exactly as it should be. I had made some last minute changes from my plan during the actual dyeing. I had followed my intuition in doing so. I strongly respect my intuition and so I let myself trust in the guidance I received as I created the cloth. When I reached that decision, the stress melted away and I felt at peace with the cloth as it was.

Since then, I have worked on several other pieces and felt a similar letting go. Things that I would have been dissatisfied with in the past didn't bother me. Things that I would have spent hours trying to "fix", I surrendered with an exhale of my breathe. Does that mean I have relaxed my quality standards? No, I'm not saying that I am overlooking sloppy workmanship. The things I have decided to overlook are so minor, no one else would notice. For example, on one piece the border is slightly wider on one side of the cloth (by about 1/16 of an inch). I noticed it, but no one else did. Maybe there is something to be said for letting go of perfectionism. I feel lighter and less stressed. This may be just a temporary madness, but I hope not.

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