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The Problem with Being an Artist

Art without pressure. Is it possible to find art relaxing?

There's a problem with being artist.

You see your friends messing around with pencils and paintbrushes for relaxation, (people for whom art is just "for fun") and you wish that you could join them. You really wish it, but you hold yourself back.

"Come on," they say. "You're really good at art."

You're good at art, it's true (and there's nothing wrong with honesty). But that's not the reason you're holding yourself back. The problem is, you know what will happen.

Artists are visionaries, and there's nothing wrong with that. To start any sort of work, you need a vision to aim towards, some sort of invisible standard in the sky."

As soon as you start drawing, you won't be able to stop. Not until it's perfect. Which it probably won't be. And until it's right, or right enough, you won't be able to get any pleasure out of it.

And your friends won't understand. "Don't worry about it, just stop," they'll say. "Yours is heaps better than mine." But what they don't realise, is that you don't care about comparisons. What they don't see is the invisible standard in your head. So what if your drawing is better than most people could do? If it doesn't match that standard within, you've failed.

The problem with perfectionism.

"Stop being a perfectionist," they say. But the problem is that perfectionism isn't actually a problem. It's what keeps you going. If you're worth anything at all as an artist, you keep on going until you reach that standard that's always out of reach.

Artists are visionaries, and there's nothing wrong with that. To start any sort of work, you need a vision to aim towards, some sort of invisible standard in the sky.

The problem comes when the vision stops you from starting. When you hold yourself back because you don't want to set foot on a journey towards something you'll never reach. You know well the taste of frustration, and you know that for you, art isn't about relaxation. It's about the pursuit of something wonderful, full of moments of intense joy, but also moments of misery.

Perfectionism is common enough. Why else would so many artists have stacks of blank sketchbooks, blank because they're afraid of ruining the first page?

Conquering the problem.

Everyone has a different answer to this problem. Some people scribble on the first page of their sketchbooks, as if to prove to themselves that they don't have to meet their inner standard. Some people find it helpful to draw a clear line between "work art" and "relaxation art". That might mean using different mediums for different purposes. Oils for serious art and crayons to relax, for example. Or blue biros on the backs of used envelopes. Whatever works for you.

For me, I've found that copying illustrations onto pages of old books is a help. I don't know why exactly. Maybe the fact that the pages are covered in words helps me conquer the fear of the blank page. Maybe the fact that I'm copying something helps my brain not to go into creative overdrive. In any case, it works for me, and I've now got quite a collection of illustrations on book pages adorning my bedroom wall.

There are times when you have to listen to the voice that says "not good enough." Other times you have to close those ears, for a bit of sanity. I'm certain that whatever it is, you'll find your own way of handling perfectionism.

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