One thing that is really great about writing, especially if you write (as I do) using a computer, is the ease with which you can make changes and fix your mistakes. Cutting, pasting, deleting with the stroke of a few keys… to me, that’s the kind of wizardry Arthur C. Clarke was referencing when he said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
And if I didn’t appreciate it before, I certainly do now since I’ve taken up inking and painting. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve wished for a convenient key stroke that might fix my obvious error or, more to the point, how many drawings and paintings I’ve had to completely do over. Sometimes I’m able to fix or incorporate my mistake. And there are times (more and more of them, actually, it might come with the territory) when I’m able to simply embrace the imperfection and let the piece stand as is – a testament to the often messy and unwieldy act of creation itself.
I posted about this on Facebook earlier this week. I wrote:
Painting makes me appreciate writing – the ease with which you can cut, paste, and delete. On the other hand, I guess there’s something to be said for the skill of embracing/incorporating my (one bazillion) mistakes.
A friend responded:
One of the favorite things the kids in my art classes used to shout back to me with glee–no mistakes in art!!!
I LIKED her comment, and if Facebook had a LOVE button, I’d have LOVED it instead.
But here’s where it gets tricky for me. On the one hand, I think we all need to stop beating ourselves up, especially when we’re being creative. The fact is, you’ll never reach your full creative potential, no matter what your art form is, if you’re afraid of making mistakes. So I heartily agree with an art teacher who teaches her kids, “There are no mistakes in art!”
On the other hand, I make mistakes, and not all of them are embraceble. I’ve had misspelled words in my hand-lettered designs. I’ve had perspective and proportion problems (and not the cute kind). I’ve had paint and ink mishaps that have brought me to tears. (Not often, though. I’m not a weepy artist, generally speaking. In fact, I’m pretty stoic. Just ask my husband, who only very occasionally has to scoop my quivering mass up off the studio floor when he comes home.)
Where was I?
Oh, yes! I make mistakes, no doubt about it. And while I value the mindset (or heart-set, as the case may be) that says, “We are all perfectly imperfect and good enough,” there is a part of me that thinks evolution often happens when we acknowledge our mistakes and aren’t okay with them. For this post, I’m going to stick to the subject of art, but I believe what I’m saying applies to life too, maybe even more so. There are times in life when you fuck up, and you know you fucked up, and rather than accept your inevitable imperfection, what you need to do is spend some time getting to the bottom of yourself, analyzing what went wrong and figuring out what needs to change. (And by you, I of course mean me.)
Back to art. This week, I was working on a painting for a series that no one has asked me to do. I want to explore the power of love to move us beyond our differences, and I’m using monsters and whimsy to do it, because that’s how I roll. So as I neared the completion of the first painting – a serpent-y creature and a little girl – I made a mistake. I messed up the little girl’s hand. In terms of how much real estate my error took up in the painting overall, the mistake was minor, but it wasn’t minor because it was distracting. When I tried to fix it, with watercolor and ink, I made it worse, and by the time I was done, I knew I’d have to just redo the whole thing.
Later, in what may or may not have been the middle of the night, it occurred to me that I might be able to use acrylic paint to fix the problem, since acrylic paint (which I’ve hardly worked with at all) would no doubt completely cover up what I’d done. I got up and in my pj’s I tried my idea, and it worked. And now I know. Next time I make a similar mistake, I’ll know how to fix it. I’ve learned something useful as an artist.
And so here’s the thing. The “perfectly imperfect” message is good, unless you cut yourself so much slack you never feel a need to expand or evolve. And recognizing when you really do need to change something (in your art or in yourself) is good, unless you spend all your evolutionary energy berating yourself.
In the end, I guess what I believe in is evolution. I don’t strive to be perfect, but I do strive to be better – braver, kinder, more aware, more skillful. Not all my mistakes will be fixable, but I’ll keep trying to fix them anyway because that’s how “getting better” works. Or at least, that’s how it works for me. Sometimes.
What do you think?
Oh, and in case you’re curious, here’s the first Monster Love painting. Feel free to tell me what a beautiful hand she has.
And, just in time for Valentine’s Day, I have some new love-fueled art cards in my Etsy shop. (Click the images to get to the shop.)