I realize now what he was really saying: “Stop pursuing perfection!” Maybe if I had a little alcohol in my system, I could trick myself into not caring about achieving perfection and thus, stop myself from over-painting, over-drawing, over-analyzing.
It is so interesting to watch a child develop artistically. They start out so loose, so free – what they see on the page IS what they see in their head even if it bears little resemblance to reality. The word “perfect” is not in their vocabulary. Eventually, however, kids start seeing a discrepancy between their depictions of life AND real life and then, the Perfection Trap begins.
I teach art to kids and rarely do I let them have erasers. When they say, “I messed up, I need an eraser” or “Can I have a new piece of paper?”, I almost always say no (unless the work is truly hopeless then I might think, “Man, he or she really did mess up” and I’ll hand over the eraser.) Most of the time I say, “There are no mistakes in art. Work with it.” and they unhappily continue. Hopefully when they finish, they realize that their mistake is really not a mistake at all, but an asset that enhances their art.
I try to follow my own lead when painting. Even if a glaring mistake is killing me, I make myself walk away. “Let it go. Have a beer. Take a break,” I say to myself. When I return, it is with a renewed set of eyes (if not an altered pair of beer goggles). Most of the time, the mistake is no longer a mistake but a new way in, a new way of looking at things – a jumping off point.
Mistakes are a part of life – they help us grow. Like the other day, when I learned that ice cream cakes go in the freezer, not the refrigerator. I stuck candles in the melting ice cream and we sang “Happy Birthday” anyway. I felt like a failure as a mother. The next day, my son, Jacob came home from school in tears. He had forgotten his Daily Planner in the school bathroom. When he remembered and returned to retrieve it, he found it soaking in a toilet.
“How could someone be so mean? I feel so stupid,” he said. “Is that how you felt yesterday when you melted my ice cream cake?”
“Yes, Jacob, that’s how I felt.”
He said, “Well, don’t worry Mom, it seriously tasted better.”
“…and now, Jacob, you have a brand new daily planner”.
As in life, our mistakes in art can turn out not be mistakes at all, but good fortune.
Kids’ art. We can learn so much from kids’ art. Mostly in the “pursuit of imperfection” department. Adult artists try their whole artistic life to get back to the carefree, uninhibited, unconstrained art of early childhood. We want to recapture the whimsy, the joie de vivre, the humor of our early art. Few of us succeed. While as kids grow, they want their art to look more like “adult” art. It’s ironic.
Take a look at the following work. It is from an upcoming show at the Green Line Cafe in West Philadelphia, entitled “All in the Family”. Adult artists show their work side by side with their offsprings’ work. I haven’t seen every piece in the show, but I can guarantee that the kids’ work is going to have an un – abandoned quality that we adult artists will envy. Their work will make us smile – will make us remember – will take us back to our own youth.