We’ve been taught to think that perfectionism is a good trait. No one ever goes into a job interview promising to do less-than-perfect work. In fact, potential job candidates are often coached to answer interview questions about their greatest weakness as, “I’m a perfectionist in everything I do.” But is perfect attainable? Or even desirable? Or is perfect holding us back? Is our mental image of that “perfect” thing keeping us from doing anything at all?
Perfectionism is just fear in disguise. Perfectionism is not creating for fear of being exposed as “not enough”. Perfectionism is not creating for fear that we’re secretly a fraud, for fear that we’re not as smart as we thought or we don’t have as much “potential” as our teachers or parents told us we did. And while it may seem like a good thing to strive for perfection, perfect art is actually unattainable (and probably kind of boring).
Perfection is the enemy of creativity. Fear of imperfection will keep us from finishing projects and often, even from starting them. Why create at all when anything you put down on paper or canvas can never compare to the perfect image you have in your head? (And can you think of how much darker the world would be if everyone thought that way?) There’s no reward without risk. And there’s no creation without imperfection.
Creativity takes courage. The courage to fail; the courage to create flawed, imperfect art. Putting out something perfect is not courageous. Putting out something that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, but looks a bit like a third-grader did it with their non-dominant drawing hand is brave and courageous. And it may just be the reason you’re on this earth!
Have you ever looked at a someone’s art or writing or at an Instagram Yogi’s perfect abs and thought, “that is my image of perfection”? And quickly following that thought, “nothing I can do will ever compare to that, so why do anything at all?” (Or worse yet, we magnet a “thinspo” image to our fridge and hate our body even more because no matter how many crunches we do or how much food we don’t eat, we’ll never look like her?) Do you realize how many people would be inspired by the creative, imperfect, unique art you create? Do you realize how many people will look at your art and think,”If they can do it, so can I.”?
Not only will people be inspired by your creations, they might see a little of themselves in it. Do you realize how many little boys or girls are looking for a reflection of themselves and can’t see it in the straight, all-white cast of a CW show? How many little black girls or trans boys pick up a book and think they must not exist or that they don’t deserve to take up space in the world because they don’t see reflections of themselves anywhere? Your project could be a love letter to them. Your project can give them something they might not be getting from family or teachers or peers and that is: permission to be exactly who they are. (And how powerful is that?)
And if those reasons don’t inspire you to make art, maybe this will: Whatever you create is the only one that there will ever be. Whatever you make, has not been done before because it is has not been done by you. Are you willing to deprive the world and yourself of your imperfect and unique art? Are you willing to sacrifice your creative life for some unattainable ideal of perfection? Or do you have the courage to create?