Friday, February 12, 2010

Lessons from Art

My submission for Willowing's The Art of Self Acceptance Book:

Great Expectations~5"x7" acrylic & graphite on watercolour paper

When I was a girl there was a lot of pressure to achieve, and to behave and look a certain way. I had to be neat, pretty, quiet, rigidly pious and unfailingly polite. My grades had to be as close to perfect as possible (an A was OK, but really kind of disappointing, why couldn’t you get an A+?). The standards set for me were impossibly high. This caused frustration, anxiety and an underlying current of guilt. What was wrong with me that I just couldn’t measure up?

As an adult, even though I am now free to be whatever I choose to be and set my own standards, I still find myself carrying around that underachiever’s guilt. Unless everything I do is absolutely spectacular (which, of course, it rarely if ever is)…it isn’t good enough. I beat myself up over every mistake. I want to be the BEST mom, wife and all around person I can be, with no room for fallibility…for being tired, cranky, messy or lazy…for being human. Logically I know it’s ridiculous, but still I carry it with me, this vague idea that perfection is somehow attainable and I am a bad person if I am not striving for it with all my might.

Enter art. This is where art helps and heals me. I find I am drawn to art that is rough, unfinished, aged and distressed. Art that revels in its own messy spontaneity, which celebrates imperfection! It is both humbling and completely liberating to sit down with a blank canvas, knowing that the end result will never be perfect, that perfection isn’t even remotely the goal. In art I am completely free to make mistakes (sometimes the “mistakes” become the most beautiful part!) and to be myself, and more and more I learn to bring this gorgeous freedom from guilt and expectations back into my every day life.

Perfection~9"x9" mixed media on watercolour paper


  1. Awesome. Makes me want to do art - to see how my own imperfections can be beautiful :)

    I heard this thing once - it was from an odd source and I don't remember where I heard it, but it was attributed to one of those entities that are supposed to be like a thousand year old warrior inhabiting some housewife's body - what do they call those? Anyway, they were kind of a fad in the 80's I think. This one was named "Mafu" which I always thought was funny in itself. But this Mafu thingie, or more likely the person this spirit was supposedly speaking through, said something I really liked and which I always think of along with perfectionism:

    "Perfection is a Limitation"

    That really struck a chord with me. We can never attain perfection, and if we could, what would be the point of life? Life is about aspiring, growing, becoming, learning - if we were perfect - how boring! It is our very imperfections that make us wonderful creatures, that make life worth living...

    My favorite short story ever is about this, too - not about perfection, but about how our limitations are what allow us to create art: "The Bound Man" by Ilse Aichinger.

    Let's celebrate our imperfection and our limitations for they are what make us uniquely wonderful!

  2. How great, E! I came over from the ning link and each time I opened an image and then closed it, I closed this page. Doh! So it took me awhile but I got to look closely at these and read the blog. Yay! Agree with you and Maggs. I'm a perfectionist too and am doing my best to lose it. Yay for imperfections. Now my favorite quote from Tyler Oakley "If you can't handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." LOVE THAT.

  3. Both of these pieces are just wonderful -- and yet so completely different. I love what you said about making mistakes in art and embracing the rough and distressed. I couldn't agree more!

  4. your illustration is so spot on and really does capture the feelings that so many of us had as girls especially. I love that you use art to heal, so do I and I adore your chewy textured piece as well, but then you know I adore crumbling splendor! xo

  5. I dunno, E--those giant heart cookies you made yesterday looked pretty spectacular to me.

  6. @ NG & Deb Quotes from Tyler Oakley AND a thousand year old warrior in a housewife body! Awesome. ;) And I so agree, perfection is a limitation and a colossal waste of energy. But I default to being really, really hard on myself all the same. I'm working on it though...I want to be free.

    @ leel, Seth & La Dolce Vita Thank you so much! I often wonder why artists are drawn to certain styles, particularly to the rough and wrecked and aged...there is something so restful and appealing in the "crumbling splendor" to me.

    @K <3

  7. "particularly to the rough and wrecked and aged...there is something so restful and appealing in the "crumbling splendor" to me." i agree-part of why i call myself ancient!


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