I decided to start getting proper practice drawing some mundane objects from life. Once I had gotten almost halfway down the page, I remembered my determination to practice drawing hands every Sunday. To rectify this I filled the rest of the page with a new hand drawing.
It’s not exactly the most exciting subject matter for the very first page of my new sketchbook, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? If I worried too much about the perfect drawing to start my sketchbook with I’d just end up paralyzed. I’d probably stop drawing all together out of fear that nothing I could draw would be good enough to meet my standards, as I detailed in this post. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time that happened. Often misplaced and crippling perfectionism is something I’ve been struggling with since I was a child.
When I was in middle school I had a teacher who looked at me flabbergasted when he was handing back a giant tome of a project which I’d received an A+ for. “Why is it,” he said “that every project you do is either way up there A+++ work or it’s excuses like ‘Oh, I didn’t do it’ or ‘I couldn’t get it finished in time’ and you just don’t hand it in at all?” I just shrugged him off at the time, took my project and didn’t really think about what he’d said except for the part that was complimentary. The comment stuck with me though and I’ve though about it quite often since. The answer, which I didn’t give him, was that all of those other projects he mentioned were sitting half finished at home. I refused to ever hand in anything that didn’t meet my standards. Sometimes this pushed me to perfectionism and achieving those A+ marks on projects. Whenever I hit a roadblock though, whenever I struggled with a project and couldn’t seem to get it right, I would go the opposite way though.
To this day my mother complains about how I could have gotten much higher marks in school if I had just handed in what I had finished on all of those projects like she told me to at the time. I would come crying to her that I hadn’t finished the project and I couldn’t figure out how to get it right. She would patiently tell me that there was no use getting so upset about it and I should just hand in what I had. I refused to accept that though. I had it in my head that it needed to be perfect before I could hand it in and I wouldn’t accept anything less. I’d rather look like a slacker or an idiot for not doing the project at all than let someone see my progress and know that I had been struggling with it. I’m not entirely sure why, I suppose it was because it made me feel vulnerable and inadequate.
My first few years of schooling, long before this incident, were in Germany. Nowhere is perfectionism prized as much as it is in Germany. They are masters of getting things right and strongly push the concept that if you can’t get it exactly right it’s not worth doing at all. At least that’s how it was in my school. My mother was a single mum putting herself through a phD and working very long hours researching so she often had trouble getting me out of the house and off to school on time when I was younger. One of the times when she met with my teachers for a conference they gave her a big lecture about how often I was late. They asked her when she thought I ought to be at school for and she replied that she supposed ought to make more of an effort to get me there early to avoid these issues. “No,” they said indignantly “she ought to be arriving exactly on time! She shouldn’t be coming here early and she certainly shouldn’t be coming late. She should always be arriving exactly on time.” My mother was flabbergasted by this approach.
Clearly I wasn’t very good at following the German system and I didn’t do very well in the school there but somehow I think that approach still got ingrained into my subconscious. I still tend to think that there is no use in doing something if I can’t get it exactly right. Of course the only way to get something exactly right is often to get it wrong, a lot. That’s something that I’ve been struggling with and trying hard to work on. I’m trying to break almost twenty years of ingrained habits and really I suppose that’s what this blog is all about. By posting thing that are very rough or bad and by showing the entire learning process that I’m going through I’m trying to train myself not to always expect perfection. I’m trying to learn not to hide my struggles and imperfections, even when it feels like I should be doing better. Most of all, I’m trying to value the learning process over the end goal. I want to actually learn and not just try to jump to the finish line. I want to truly understand it and not just try to jump ten steps ahead and pretend to “get it”. It may take me ten times longer that way, much longer than I want it to, but I believe that it will be much more rewarding in the long run. I still prize perfection as the ultimate goal. I just accept that realistically it’s an unattainable goal and it’s the journey, the progress you make towards that goal, that hold real value.