How much of your art is utterly perfect in every way?
Most of it?
Half of it?
None of it?
If you do think some is perfect work when you create it, what about when you revisit it a month later, six months later, two years later? Is it still so perfect?
It’s highly unlikely.
Despite these inevitable facts, many of us still get caught up in a brutal internal battle with ourselves, unleashing all kinds of verbal violence because every word, note or stroke we create isn’t the pinnacle of perfection.
Which, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, does not provide the most fertile breeding ground for a happy, carefree, prolific artist.
So what if we could let go of this need for perfection?
What might happen then?
Each morning, I do yoga and meditate. (Forgive the sudden personal detour – I will have a point at the end of it.)
I’ve been doing yoga every day for nearly a year, and meditation for maybe three months or so.
So, by now, I should be approaching a flexibility akin to a piece of soft rubber hose and states of calm known only in the temples of zen buddhists. Right?
Well, not exactly. Not even close.
Let’s focus on the meditation for a moment.
When I meditate, I don’t feel an instant all encompassing calm.
Warm lush grass doesn’t sprout underneath me, soft pink cherry blossom petals don’t float down from the bluest summer sky.
In reality, I still feel that annoying tiny itch in my left ankle, that numbness in my right buttock. My mouth feels incredibly dry, my shoulders still ache, and my mind still races.
I suspect that, whilst I have fleeting moments of wonderful calm, I will never reached a prolonged state of blissful stillness. Well, not while my heart’s still beating anyway.
So, because I haven’t already reached the pinnacle of meditative nirvana within a few months – because I’m not perfect at meditating and able to attain a deep state of tranquility for days on end – should I give it up and not do any at all?
Of course not.
I’m still going to keep showing up to the mat each day and trying to let go. I’m still going to aim for those fleeting moments that make it all worthwhile, and hopefully experience them more deeply, and more often.
It’s the same with creating.
You’re never going to create a single, definitive, perfect artwork that means you’ll never need to create anything ever again.
Your evolution is continuous, there will always be new angles, different techniques, variations of approach.
Plus, like we spoke about right at the start of this, even if you create something that seems perfect today, it won’t look the same in a day, week, month, year from now. There’s no definitive end destination, that once you arrive at, you can hang up your creative tools and retire from life as an artist. You’re constantly growing and changing.
Being an artist is a lifetime calling. (Pre-)cradle to (post-)grave.
So once we let go of the need to create not only that single definitive perfect work of art, but any perfect works of art, what happens then?
What can we embrace instead of perfectionism?
How about immersionism?
How about striving to give yourself as fully and completely as possible to whatever it is you’re creating, focusing on moment after moment, rather than the end product?
How about doing this every time you come to create?
How about showing up and immersing yourself in your work like this every single day?
It takes commitment, it takes practice, but it’s so much easier than you think. Especially when you start small.
Let go of perfection, in fact celebrate the liberation that being an imperfect artist (like the rest of us) brings – and seek only to fully immerse yourself in your work as deeply as you can, as often as you can.
It’s time. Let’s stop being perfectionists, and instead become immersionists.
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