How To Not Let Perfectionism Ruin Your Art

I’ve started painting again. I used to do oil painting and now I’m learning watercolors. I’ve never really used them before so I’m a complete beginner. An unexpected result is that it feels so, so, so good to let myself be a beginner. My paintings don’t have to be perfect, it’s enough just to create them. It’s enough to know that mastering a skill can take a lifetime and there’s no race for me to be better. Painting is just fun. Seeing improvement in my skills is just fun.

It makes me think about how many people aren’t okay with being beginners at writing even though it’s just a skill just like anything else. My favorite poet died at the height of her popularity, she was 83. Her writing at the end of her life is better than her writing when she was just starting out. When I think about my career as a writer and an artist and thinking person, I think about being 83 and being able to wake up every day and take a long walk with my dogs before writing beautiful poetry. I think about how good my writing will be because I have spent my life working towards mastering this skill.

And if my writing isn’t remarkable by then, I guess I also don’t really care. My disposition as a person is to write and think and create. I don’t owe it to anyone to achieve greatness. I won’t be more or less valuable as a person if I achieve greatness. I owe it to myself to be authentic and to put one foot in front of the other as I progress in my skills and interests. That’s all. That’s the whole deal.

I have a lot of my beginner writing online, you can find it if you google me. I don’t think it’s embarrassing to create something and share it knowing my thinking and writing skills will get better over time. Needing to be perfect and needing others to think I am perfect and have already mastered every skill there is to master in life has actually been a really toxic force for me. I continue to relearn how to play and how to accept myself even though I haven’t fixed everything that’s wrong with me. I like that I can see how I have grown. It’s a healthy reminder to me that I am just an imperfect person doing my best and there is no pressure to be anything other than that.

There’s a saying in AA that you’re only as sick as your secrets. I’m hungry enough for good mental health that I don’t want to have secrets. As Bethenny Frankel famously screamed on the iconic Real Housewives of New York “MENTION IT ALL”.

Last year I rediscovered the love for John Mayer I cultivated in high school. I was listening to an old song about him staying home alone on a weekend night to write love songs. I was doing the same thing with poetry and essays instead of music, but unlike John I felt really pathetic about it. I thought I should be embarrassed for sharing my feelings and taking something like love so seriously. And then I realized that the entirety of music is people taking their feelings about love seriously. And we as a species are obsessed with music exactly because we need to know that other people feel the things we have felt. The music we listen to belies the things that really matter to us — and most of it is love and heartbreak. These things really are that important. Why wouldn’t I spend time writing about them?

Seeing John as an artist be true to what he wants in life even though it seems trivial and embarrassing to others freed me to count myself among people like him. I can just be another one of many, many creative, sensitive souls in the history of humankind (famous and ordinary) that needs to explore my feelings and my failures through creative work. Nothing I do is especially cringeworthy, it’s just me trying (so hard) to be a person.

My comfort with imperfection helps me create grow as a writer slash human being. I can (cautiously) follow my artistic instinct even though it feels cringey and scary to put myself out there. The more I let down the mask and allow myself to be viewed as hopelessly imperfect, the less I feel compelled to do everything perfectly. When I let go of perfectionism, I find more joy in creating. I can find satisfaction in growth and feel content with my journey where I used to feel anxiety that I was “behind”.

Before Andy Warhol was a famous artist and a famous cool person he just drew shoes for advertisements. He needed money to live and he was lucky enough to be able to develop his artistic skills in order to earn it. I don’t know enough to know if he was made to feel embarrassed for doing commercial work after his career took off, but I see it as part of his story. He grew his skills and ideas over time. We don’t emerge from the womb as poet laureates.

If we are lucky our lives will span decades. I want to have some movement to show for that time. Go and make some shitty art and put it on Instagram.

More From Thought Catalog