Freedom from Perfection

Arianna Ruvalcaba  |  Copy Editor

The oft-repeated phrase declares, “practice makes perfect.” Perfection is a drug, satisfaction the bitter release that soon rescinds, begging for a better result. When it comes to creativity in particular, perfection is subjective to the artist. The problem is that perfection may never be reached. How many hours do you think filmmakers slaved over “Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens” until they decided it was good enough to unveil to the world?

The constant effort of pursuing perfection and obtaining adequate perfection might be a difficult one to deal with, possibly even resulting in mental exhaustion.

Researchers Andrew Hill and Thomas Curran published a meta-analysis late July that examined 43 studies conducted within the last 20 years and chronicled the relationship between perfectionism and burnout.

According to a press release about the study, Hill said, “Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring.”

Too often, artists continue to fix their paintings until the night they put it up for sale or musicians wait years to release their new EPs because their work is not quite at the level they want it to be at.

Sam Marsey is a local songwriter, performing artist and lead singer of the up-and-coming band Outside Voices. He acknowledges that an artist is always most critical of his or her own work. He strives to create music that is universally appreciated, yet understands the line between perfect and sufficient. When a song works, it may not be perfect, and that’s okay.

“There’s an intangible sense of magic that exists with tracks where you went flat on a note or you didn’t come in right on beat or you slipped on a word, but the rest of the take has such a feeling and emotion behind it that you know you can’t just recreate. A lot of stuff does have imperfections, but it’s always about the essence of it,” said Marsey.

The process to get to that satisfactory point may be arduous, which is off-putting to some. But that should never be an excuse to lose determination. Instead of giving up and burning out, Marsey encourages young artists to understand the reality of the creative process and flow with it rather than against it.

“You have to learn to accept that 98 percent of the stuff you make is crap,” Marsey said. “No one only speaks in gold. Everybody has all this fluff in between their most poignant moments. You have to learn how to ride the wave and let all the jitters and the bad ideas out. You have to dig away, and as you start to get deeper and deeper you find more hidden gems that weren’t as accessible to you before.”

Kristin Ritzau, adjunct composition and leadership professor at Azusa Pacific University and author of  “A Beautiful Mess: A Perfectionist’s Journey Through Self-Care” embraces a similar philosophy. Ritzau makes her students turn in three separate drafts of the papers she assigns. She wants them to find their voice and not write their papers the night before they are due.

“There’s this fear of the blank page. Doing research and finding out about the world around you will actually help you be a better writer, a better performer, a better student, a better doctor,” said Ritzau.

On the other hand, she recognizes that unpressured creativity can also be used to repel the overwhelming feeling of perfectionism in other areas. Ritzau conducts an activity in some classes—complete with markers and butcher paper—where students literally learn to draw outside the lines after initially drawing in their assigned boxes.

“A lot of people are scared who considered themselves type A plus, and they think they’re not creative. They don’t want to give themselves permission to get messy or be creative in these processes,” said Ritzau.

One way to get messy, so to speak, is art journaling, a practice of which Ritzau is a big advocate. This can consist of drawing, finger painting, cutting and pasting magazine clips or even writing with your non-dominant hand.

According to Ritzau’s website, “Art journaling has provided that safe place to express my troubles, emotions, dreams and thoughts once again.”

Whether creativity is a source of income or merely helps to relieve stress, the task of trying to be perfect is daunting. However, an artist can rest in the idea that art is made complex and beautiful by its imperfections.

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