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The Plight of Perfectionists – Robert Genn

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

The plight of perfectionistsRecently I've been looking into the business of perfectionism among painters. It seems to me most artists have a mild version of the condition. I'm also seeing a kind of obsessive perfectionism that really holds some artists back. Let me explain.

Social psychologists and forum leaders identify types of human machinations they often call "rackets." Apparently we all run them. Rackets are blind spots, self-fulfilling games or internalized stories we keep repeating to avoid certain outcomes. For example, a painter may demand such high standards of himself that work never leaves the studio. Work is never quite finished. "Never quite good enough" is his racket.

Some artists need to look at the disabling that comes with over-perfectionism. They need to find out where it came from and what can be done about it.

Perfectionism is the opposite of audacity. It is the over-runner of intuition and the neutralizer of confidence. It is the mean little voice that says, "Noodling will get this thing right." More overworked passages are wrought by perfectionism than this world dreams of.

When rackets are identified, there's a root cause that cannot easily be dug out and released. The longer the racket persists, the more difficult it is to remove. An overly demanding, displeased parent, sibling or spouse, even from the distant past, is a common source. Guilt, fear and common garden-variety stubbornness play their part. These conditions and their sources need to be understood, analyzed and forgiven. While counselling may be necessary, vigorous introspection is often a good course.

The perfectionist artist may also suffer from the scourge of advice dependency. He is always looking for expert opinion to release himself from the eternal burden of making up his own mind. This is, of course, an impossible request. The artist must hold all skills within himself. As Picasso pointed out, knowing when to stop is just as important as knowing how to paint.

Perfectionism often hits artists in mid life. When you are a kid, you don't know your own limitations and you just do it. A few failures or discouragements later and you start to lose your moxie. Perfectionism becomes chronic. Dedicated head vacuuming is in order. Re-accessing your child may be necessary. At the base of all of this is independent character-development and rugged self-control.

Best regards,

PS: "Done is better than perfect." (Scott Allen)

Esoterica: A former Jehovah's Witness of my acquaintance, now departed, painted only one painting that I know of. Taken to and from crits, her painting received changes or embellishments after each advisor had a go. In its final reincarnation it was not at all like it was at first. No matter what anyone said (like "Leave it alone," or "Start another"), twenty or so human figures mysteriously appeared in the painting during a ten-year period. Also, a few extra lambs were lying down with the lions. As well as being "busy," it was quite overworked. Curiously, posthumously, it was accepted into a group show, so what do I know?

Robert Genn has given artazine.org permission to publish his newsletter online.  Please feel free to view more insightful advice for artists at his website, http://www.painterspost.com

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