Perfectionism in Art: Artists’ Nemesis

Photo by Valeria Ushakova

When it comes to everything art-related, artists always preach the same thing: “Do it from your heart.” This means not caring what it looks like and whatever people will say about it as long as you’ve expressed what your heart says. Perfectionism in art isn’t about making immaculate artwork.

Being a perfectionist in the art field is horrible. Unlike perfectionism in other areas like medicine or engineering, which can help improve people’s work, perfectionism in art stunts it. The moment it creeps into one’s mind, subtle mistakes are accentuated, cultivating dissatisfaction in one’s work and making one doubt their ability. No matter how hard one tries to improve or change their work, efforts become futile as art starts to look not good enough.

Imagine yourself painting something. Everything’s going great, and you’re starting to feel proud of what you’re doing. Until things shift, you can’t seem to get the angle right, and the color becomes off. Everything looks off. The moment you’re in this headspace, you will begin seeing yourself as a failure, regardless of how beautiful your artwork is.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), if you think like this, you’re not alone.

What Is Perfectionism in Art?

Most artists suffer from being their own worst critics. Perfectionism in art happens when artists are too critical of their work. In itself, it isn’t disadvantageous. However, managing incorrectly can adversely influence one’s work process. If this happens, it’s time to change certain things.

By definition, perfectionism is when people strive to be perfect, which is understandable to a certain extent. Everyone wants to set high standards for themselves. They don’t want to settle at average. Instead, they’d like their artwork to be flawless, to encapsulate their skills and how great they are at what they do. But there comes a time when this desire precedes rational thinking. They constantly seek this perfection, a conceptually impossible quality to achieve, mistaking it for artistic excellence. Once this happens, they doubt everything they do.

When Is Perfection Bad?

Like everything else, there’s always a limitation to how much of something works. Perfectionism works when artists use it for improvement and not for extensive criticism. Perfectionist artists are keen on details, noticing when the minor elements are inaccurate or have gone amiss. But this perfection becomes detrimental when all they focus on are these subtle elements, and they can’t create anything they can genuinely appreciate.

Instead of improving their performance, perfectionism in art often leads to procrastination. Artists become too self-conscious about their artwork that they look for reasons not to do anything. They’re too scared of producing anything mediocre or bad to forego finishing anything. Once this happens, artists end up paralyzed due to perfection, ruining the fun and enjoyment art offers. While it can be easy to succumb to this phenomenon, it’s not impossible to avoid it.

For starters, here are ways how:

Remember, Mistakes Are Lessons

It can be tough dealing with mistakes in art. After all, they often mean artists have to trash everything and start from scratch. Errors can be frustrating. But it also pays to remember that they’re a crucial part of the artistic process. Mistakes let artists know where they can still improve and what they can do to achieve that artistic excellence.

Mistakes are stepping stones toward success and beauty when they aren’t viewed negatively. This means artists must reframe their mindset and look at mistakes as a redirection or a discovery toward improvement.

Start With Honesty

Perfectionism in art can spiral from other things. Hence, artists must be honest with themselves to resolve this problem. They can start by asking themselves:

  • Why are they aiming for perfection?
  • Are the standards they’ve set achievable, or is it unrealistic?
  • Do they genuinely know their capacity and the limitations to what they can do?

By identifying the root cause of their performance, they can plan how to improve their situation and how to deal when it arises again. This awareness can help artists commit to change, shifting their mindset and realigning what they truly desire out of doing art.

Ignore the Inner Critic

When people create, they always have that inner voice telling them their artwork is terrible. Since it’s the feedback they constantly receive, it can be easy to believe it. But that’s what artists should avoid doing. They can choose to listen to it from time to time by considering it as healthy criticism. They can live with it, accepting its existence. However, they should be given too much attention, or it’ll lead to self-doubt and damage.

Keep Creating

Never be too afraid to step right back into the creative field. The only way to defeat hesitation and overcome this unnecessary drive toward perfection is by keeping at it with what one is doing. By not letting this inner critic win, artists shouldn’t give in to fear and doubt. They can attend numerous art lessons like Jeanne Henderson’s art for fun classes to experience a new environment.

Artists may have been too stuck in creating alone that their only company is their inner critic. This makes them susceptible to listening to this voice. But when they expose themselves to a community of like-minded individuals, they can listen to other voices sharing their opinion about their work. Who knows, they may even receive praise from people who’re looking at their work from new perspectives.


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