This is a repost from 2013 but I wanted to dust it off because a LOT of you are just beginning your journey or are renewing your commitment to mixed media art or art journaling, so VOILA! Read On
Hello, lovely fresh, new, green-as-grass artist/writer/sculptor/musician/poet/photographer!
So, you want to be an artist, and you’ve just started out with hope in your eyes and passion in your heart for your chosen art form. Perhaps you’ve begun a practice – sketching or painting or writing or composing. Maybe you’ve done a few things by now and when you look at your fresh, shiny ‘body of work’, your heart sinks a little bit. You may be giving yourself a stern talking-to. You may even be going all GORDON RAMSEY on yourself. (Curious what I mean by this? Do keep reading!)
Practicing any art form is hard at first. We need to develop our skills, develop muscle memory (or carve out new pathways in our brain meats). We need to begin seeing or hearing or thinking in a new way.
And hard not just in the skill-building sense, but in the hard-on-our-self-esteem sense. Doing anything we’re new at comes with a double whammy of omg, I suck at this stuff + omg, look at that <insert the flaws you perceive in your work> stuff. Neither is good for the budding artist within us, or the tender five-year-old self we all carry at the core of our adulthood.
We’ve all experienced our Hell’s Kitchen-inspired inner critics going all Gordon Ramsey on our asses over how badly we suck as we are beginning. Let me ask you this: how do you feel when you watch someone bash themselves about the head and face for sucking or getting it wrong or hating their own work?
Like crap. Because this is tender territory. Our inner five-year-olds are thinking “OH NO! IF SHE’S CRAP THEN I MUST BE CRAP, TOO!” Our budding inner artists get really, really scared to *try* because we know we’re new, and we know we’re probably going to suck, too.
We need a little Julia Child infusion. Julia Child would never swear at us for breaking an egg. She would just move the class into omelet-making with grace and humour. She would never freak out at us or swear at us for burning the filet. She’d throw her hands up and say THERE’S ALWAYS THE SALAD…
So, let’s ease off on ourselves. Let’s save the really hard stuff for when we’ve mastered the basics. Let’s remember that we are NEW. Let’s remember that we get to practice and practice doesn’t mean ‘perfect’ or even ‘passable’. It means PRACTICE.
Let’s practice with a sense of fun, of play. Let’s not yell at our budding inner artists for *trying*. Let’s not traumatize our already tender inner five year olds with smack talk. Let’s not label our early attempts as ‘failures’.
I want you to take this in. Bookmark it. Make it a habit to watch it regularly. I’m down to once a month or so, but when I first started making art, I was watching this *at least* weekly.
Watch it daily if you need to:
Perfectionism BLOCKS Progress
When I first began I *sucked at everything*. I sucked like crazy. I couldn’t draw what I saw (and I still can’t) to save my life. I had to learn every skill I’ve got and then I had to practice. I knew I sucked, but I *was okay with it*. I was lucky enough to know that suckage is inevitable when you are a beginner.
If I’d expected to be perfect or even good out of the gate, I would have quit because perfectionism blocks progress. It sets us up to fail.
Because, listen: Perfect doesn’t exist. Even when (as in portrait making) we measure every facial feature within a nanometer of its existence, there is going to be something *off* in our final product. And guess what? THAT’S AWESOME! Because it is in the flaws that character shines through. It is in the slight crookedness of a grin or the wonkiness of one eye that our faces achieve their humanity.
Compare, for example, a mannequin to a photograph. Mannequins are perfect. They are also creepy. They are imitations of life, and they feel like imitations.
So, forget perfect. Go for progress. Progress moves us forward. Every time you practice, you are *bound to get better*. A first attempt will suck, but it is also medal-worthy, because DUDE! YOU TRIED! And you are going to keep trying until you are HAPPY with what you produce.
Trying Is Winning
Learning to create things that make us happy is an exercise in trying. We will produce a lot of crap, but it is COMPOST crap, not shit-on-the-bottom-of-our-shoe crap. It is the kind of crap from whence roses grow. Let us honour that. Making crap leads to making not so crappy leads to making things we love. Trying is winning. We’re all winners.
The Art Of The Reframe
If you start channeling Gordon Ramsey, try conjuring up Julia Child instead. To Gordon’s “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?” respond with “THERE’S ALWAYS THE SALAD”.
Do Not Do
Try it and see if you don’t find yourself easing up a little bit…or a lot.
You would not expect a five-year-old to master anything out of the gate. Like a five-year-old trying something new, you have permission to suck. Sucking leads to not sucking with time, patience, practice, humour and kindness.
Sending humour and kindness to all the places that need it.