I am taking some watercolor painting lessons. And in that, the same lessons that have followed me all of my years thus far (sixty six years and counting), have followed me into art school. One is perfection. For all my conscious days I have wanted to do things perfectly. I want to be error free and master of those things I endeavor to do. And as you can already guess, I have been doomed … not only to failure but to on-going frustration. The other haunting lesson is that of self-acceptance: it doesn’t take much for my head to turn (or my heart) to say “I want to be like _______.”
Curiously, the watercolor lessons have been somewhat helpful in letting go of my striving for perfection – at least in that arena. As I observed in an earlier post I have found the medium of water coloring freeing. We are not painting to replicate life, rather to interpret in the medium of watercolor paints what it is we see, whether in a photograph, a scene, or a still life. But last week the instructor said something that I think may, in time, as I fully digest and take into my heart, head, and soul, be helpful in letting go of striving for perfection in all areas of my life. This is what she said: “perfection is the enemy of excellence.” Read that again. It makes such good sense. (I have tried to research the source of the quote – and have not found anything authoritative, rather notes that it may be from Voltaire.) The suggestion is that in our striving for perfection, to paint the tree just so, to agonize over the shading of the rocks in a seaside scene, we are actually being held back from our full creative powers. We are bound by our longing for perfection, rather than freed to do what we can do. I am holding onto this quotation – I think it is powerful. If you are a perfectionist (whoops, if you strive for perfection – because God knows none of us are) then maybe it will be helpful for you to take into your consciousness as well.
Yesterday at the end of class we looked at each one’s work for the day, as is our practice. One woman had a painting that had a real “style” to it – it was the style of the painter and it was unique. I – capital, bold, italicized and underlined “I” – want to have a unique style to my painting too. I want to be like her. And maybe one day I will have a style – after I have practiced the craft for some time. However in the mean time I am reminded of a book mark I gave to a very good friend of mine. It reads “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”