How Perfectionism Can Kill Creativity

Mar 3, 2021 | Blog

As someone who mostly dabbles in words, it’s rare that I make an Actual Thing I can pick up and hold. I’ve been feeling rather unproductive this week and was wondering if that might have something to do with it. My toddler, on the other hand, makes so much art we could paper walls with it.

‘It’s finished,’ she declares, holding up an abstract cluster of squares created with a sponge.

‘These are my footprints, and these are mummy’s,’ she says, using a small paintbrush and a big paintbrush.

Footsteps. Paint on paper. 2021.

When I ask her if she wants to add any other colours to her drawing for her baby cousin’s birthday, she gives me a funny look. It is a scrawl of black, with ‘eyes’ at the top for an unnamed animal.

‘No,’ she says.

How simple and direct. Sometimes she covers the page with handprints, colours and swirling loops. Other times she chooses one colour and does a few lines and declares she is finished. What assurance, what decisiveness.

Back in the first lockdown, I decided it would be good to make things. Having carted my Fimo all the way to France, I finally collected some fragments of time to make a snail. It had a swirly shell and a plain white body. I’d looked at images and videos online to help me make it.

But it wasn’t quite right. You could see the thumbprints on the otherwise smooth body. There was a kink at the back of the shell. It wobbled when I stood it up. So I decided to wrap it in cling film and keep it for another day.

What a search for perfection can lead to…

Today was that day. I decided to resurrect my little animal and solidify it in the oven, no matter how I felt about it. Unfortunately, I was too late. When I flicked a bit of dirt off the neck, the head fell off. When I tried to straighten the shell, it cracked. In my bid to wait until it was perfect, I’d ended up with a pile of colourful crumbs.

So what did I learn from this tiny tragedy? Firstly, that art can just be what I want it to be, and doesn’t need endless fiddling to be made perfect. Secondly, that I should trust my instincts and make what I want, rather than feeling the need to look at how others do it.

And finally, that there is value in small things. That giving myself a break to make an object can be satisfying and fun and enrich the other aspects in my life.

If you need me I’ll be over here, making imperfect things.

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