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The Complex Relationship Between Perfectionism And Creativity

The relationship between creativity and perfectionism is complex. Is it good? Is it bad? Or maybe it’s not as black and white as that. There are all sorts of reactions to the pressures you put on yourself. Whether it’s motivational or debilitating, both can impact your life a great deal in different ways.

Article by Ross C. 

“I’m a perfectionist” could be a clichéd description of yourself when asked the inevitable question in an interview, “What is your weakness?” Is this intentional flipping of negative to positive a good thing to do?

If we bring philosophy into the equation, either everything is already perfect or nothing ever will be. If human nature is flawed, then artistically speaking, embracing flaws and finding beauty in imperfections should be the centre of creativity.

What we perceive as perfect is conceived in our own minds: it’s subjective. A piece of art may be perfect to one person and utterly repulsive to another. So this begs the question, why do we incessantly put pressure on ourselves to achieve the impossible?

Is it our ego?

For some people being a perfectionist is a badge of honour. They scream it from the rooftops at any given chance. In a number of ways it’s a lofty goal to strive for perfection every time you tackle something creatively. Or does this really just mean you have a massive ego?

If you aim to achieve perfection, there must be a part of you that believes you are worthy of it, that you are somehow better than others and are capable of doing so.

Julia Cameron notes: “To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue.”

Well that may be so, but the spanner here is that there are different types of perfectionism. For example, the pressure may be coming from others expectations of your abilities and not yourself. In this case your ego plays little involvement…

It can be good

In the creative world perfectionism has its benefits. It acts as a motivational force, pushing people past their own boundaries and revolutionising. Artists and designers that constantly want to tweak and fine-tune their work will improve. Those who are content with what they can do don’t tend to innovate. Steve Jobs aspired for perfection and look where that got him (essentially world domination!)

Arguably, if we didn’t have perfectionists in the world that obsess over their art, it would be a pretty dismal place.

Blocked by perfectionism

So what happens when your perfectionism prevents you from even attempting anything creatively? The fear of not being able to produce something you’re content with can lead to stress, frustration and most likely a conclusion that this just isn’t for you.

Image by Matt Holland

Alternatively, embarking on a creative venture with a perfectionist attitude can preoccupy your brain and prevent you from reaching that ‘artistic flow’ that people dream of.

The annoying thing about perfectionism is that we’re our worst enemy. Maybe it’s time to slam the breaks on our tough critic and become our own biggest fan.

Recently I began to paint a canvas picture for my sisters 30th Birthday. An hour later I was getting increasingly wound up as the process laboured on and my vision wasn’t coming together. Eventually everything became a blur and my friend had to pry the picture from my hand before I either burned or stabbed it with a sharp object. This would have been self-sabotage, a direct route to failure. The point of this story is that when I gave my sister the picture, she adored it. Which leads to this…

‘Pretty good’ can be enough

Remember that there is a sense of enjoyment from creating. There is a reason for drafts and rough sketches. Why else would so many people immerse into a creative task daily? Sooner or later, it’s OK to say, “You know what, this is pretty good” and call it a day.

This doesn’t mean you are settling or lowering your standards. It’s making the wise decision (even regarding your health!) that at the precise moment in time, this is the best you can do – it may not be the best thing you’ve ever done but accepting the outcome is vital. You’ll find a sense of relief and achievement if you do this. Then you can move on with your next idea and consequently become significantly better at what you do.

Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? How do you cope with undertaking creative ventures?

Featured Image: Kris Krug

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