Should you keep every piece of art you make? If you’re not making much quantity, it may be beneficial to keep more of it to track progress over time: The physical evidence of improvement can help inspire you to continue practicing, if having fun during the process is not enough to validate the time spent on something ‘frivolous,’ (especially as adulthood seems to bring the concern to be productive all of the time).
If you’re focusing on quantity and start to accumulate piles of artwork, you may want to consider throwing some of it away. In the Atlantic.com article Throw Your Children’s Art Away, it argues “If it’s the act of making the art that’s useful and good for children, then let this part of the art live, and then let its results die. Like its aesthetic quality, the output of children’s artistic efforts is incomplete. Throwing it away actually does everyone a favor.” And “The correct answer is to make the art, bestow it upon someone to behold and admire for a while, and then toss it.”
Children make art for fun, with minimal focus on quality because the act of making something IS the result, not the main point of the exercise. Its’s through the process of making art that you gain feedback so it almost seems irrelevant if the art is any good or is kept. The art is the means to an end in order for you to be creative. Why as adults, do we pressure ourselves to make a thing that has enough value to be kept (and admired) forever? By adopting the childlike spirit of making art and throwing it away, we release ourselves of the burden to make ‘good’ art. We become less attached to the art needing to be perfect which ultimately helps us to be more creative individuals.
Perfectionist tendencys won’t get you far when you start making art. We can forget to simply enjoy making and to have fun because we want to make art that visually communicates the time and effort was worth it. Suddenly the little piece of art you make has a lot of expectations weaved into it: Be good. Show creative skill. Communicate creativity. But that’s setting your quality bar far too high, especially when you’re a beginner.
Making art is not about a perfected final piece, something that is so perfect that no one can criticise it. Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection explains “Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” This kind of perfectionist thinking freezes creativity in its tracks and will ultimately make you a more nervous artist because if you can’t make a mistake, you may stop making altogether. Brown goes as far to say “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Making ‘perfect’ art won’t make you a better artist or make you more creative. If you’re not allowed to make mistakes then you instantly limit your experimentation and creative potential. Experimentation requires freedom from quality and a willingness to get it wrong. The world needs ‘no perfection’ art because making something is better than never making anything.
Allow yourself to make ‘bad art’ because making no art at all is a far worse outcome.
“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.” — Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic
Have you ever started making art but suddenly you feel like you’re doing it all wrong? Or your pen slips and makes a unexpected mark that you’re cross about? In those moments the urge to want to start over is almost impossible to ignore but ignore it you must. Your future creative progress depends on it.
The reason for not wanting to make any mistakes and why we seek perfection is something Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks about: “I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
What if being imperfect and making mistakes makes you a better artist? What making mistakes now actually means if your future self can thrive? David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art and Fear explain “Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further. It is precisely this interaction between the ideal and the real that locks your art into the real world, and gives meaning to both.
When making art, the more mistakes the better! There is beauty in the imperfect – it’s human and real and that’s exactly what’s required when making art.
“Your own reasons to create are reason enough.” Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic, who believes following your curiosities will lead you in the right direction; if you can give yourself permission and time to follow them. “Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty… Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest of it will take care of itself.”
While making art for fun is the reason, purpose and outcome of the process, we get caught up with needing to make something perfected and of value (i.e. it’s been worth the time invested to produce a physical thing). Instead of it being about how many valuable things you can make, what if if was about having fun creating? Gilbert explains “Why should I go through all the trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?” The answer will usually come with a wicked trickster grin: “Because it’s fun, isn’t it?”
Wanting to create a finished, perfected thing can halt the whole creative process. Instead of making something good, make something that’s done. Progress is always more beneficial than perfect: “if you can just complete something – merely complete it! – you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there. You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.” Moving on quickly to make more art is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly so that we become less precious about making mistakes, and allow our creativity to flow. “At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heard.”
You are your own biggest critic, the only one that notices all the imperfections and rough edges in your art. Nobody else is keeping score because they’re too busy focusing on their own imperfections. Gilbert encourages us to make imperfect work and agrees that nobody is paying any attention anyway: “Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.” [emphasis added]
The biggest obstacle to start making art? Yourself. We want to be good at everything instantly, even if we’ve had minimal practice. The fear that you might fail will keep you paralysed before you’ve even started. By comparing yourself to a prolific artist who has years of experience, work and failures under their belt, it’s no wonder you feel disappointed at the fledgling art marks you make. You want to make something worthy of the time spent on it (to be a constant human productivity machine) as well as seeking out approval from others. But Brené Brown in Daring Greatly suggests that if you attach your self-worth to your art then you’re handing over your self-worth to what other people think: “You’re officially a prisoner of ‘pleasing, performing, and perfecting’.”
Wanting everything to be perfect so you can avoid making ‘bad’ art will keep you stuck because the bar of expectation is immediately too high. Getting confident and making original art can take a lifetime and in the meantime decide to have fun. Get messy, make bad art on purpose, get into the flow of making something simply for the joy of making something. You are in control of how high your bar of expectation is, so you can lower it to “I will simply enjoy making art.” To experience satisfaction or even joy in creating something from nothing is a worthy goal.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says “Overcoming self doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.” Let go of needing to be good art because it doesn’t matter if what you make is good, bad, ugly, masterful or simple. It’s not not about creating a perfected final physical thing, it’s about the process of self-discovery, joy and creativity by tapping into a part of you that normally lies hidden.
“Beneath our flaws, there are always two ingredients: fear and a desire for love.” – Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety
If you feel lost as to what you ‘should’ be making/drawing/writing when getting creative, don’t worry. It’s a common hurdle for all creatives. When the hurdle feels too large and therefore overwhelming to overcome, it can lead to creative burnout. But the fact is there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to art making and everyone – including professional artists – is making it up as they go. Michaela Chung in The Year of the Introvert says “The truth is that no one knows what the hell they are doing. The problem is not the fact that you haven’t got it all figured out. It’s the fact that you feel like you should.”
You shouldn’t have worked it all out because nothing is ever finished – the journey of art making continues and you’re never ever done. Progress and growth is the ultimate goal and so when you’re feeling lost, make anything. Anything at all, there’s no need for it to to even be any good. Chung touches on progress: ” One of my personal mottos is “progress over perfection.” You’re not perfect, but you’re better that your were before, and that’s what really matters.”
Being creative is a series of steps where you only need to choose one tiny step at a time.
In Abigail Thomas’s Thinking About Memoir she talks of how life isn’t a neat puzzle: “Life isn’t a puzzle that needs to fit together perfectly, every piece locking into place with every piece to form a perfect whole. Life is complicated. Stuff overlaps. Some stuff will never fit in one place.”
Making art is the same. It will never fit together perfectly, that’s why it’s art. We don’t need you to make something perfect. We need you to make something that’s real, that you felt inspired to make. Overlaps and mistakes included.