Evaluating my Relationship with Art

Date: 2024-01-25

Hating yourself makes you better, right?

My relationship with art greatly resembles my relationship with writing. I have an inherit love of art, but I become debilitated as I let perfectionism, shame, and fear take over. It is a nasty, deeply engrained habit. Art becomes painful, and not fun anymore. I have produced little art over the years because of this, placing my art growth at an indefinite standstill. I've never been able to keep a sketchbook because I would start tearing out the pages if they weren't perfect. Nevermind that sketchbooks are supposed to be for exploring and messing up.

On making mistakes

It's embarassing for people to see me trying, struggling, and making mistakes. I want to get it right the first time. On my latest drawing, I expressed my frustration to my dad about how many mistakes I was making, and he replied with a smile, "Well, just learn from your mistakes!" I despise hearing this, because it's obvious. I'm already doing that. It's embarassing that I even made the mistake in the first place, so there's no way in hell I'm ever making that mistake again. I'm really beating myself up here. A better way to look at it is that I'm not just covering my ass; I'm stretching through the discomfort and I truly am learning. My dad wasn't wrong, it's just not what I needed to hear.

I'm also cursed with the "gifted child" label. People are always telling me how gifted I am at art, almost like there aren't more interesting or valuable things about me, and I start to feel like I have to uphold that identity. I start thinking I'm weighed down by the expectations of others, but really, I think I'm the one upholding the impossible, crushing expectations. Can I bear to let it go?

A critical mistake

For years, I created art that was safe. I was masking even within my artwork. It was never safe to be myself. I also grew up with a father who psychoanalyzed me and my art, which was damaging, to say the least. So I created work to be beautiful, if not to revel in my technical ability, and have it say nothing at all about me.

a digital painting of a baby with big, blue eyes, looking into the distance
Figure 1: A digital drawing I made in 2019. Digital portraiture is my specialty and comfort zone. I look at my old work now and I think they are devoid of soul. Yes, they are technically sound and pretty, Instagram worthy stuff, but that is about it. This one took 24 hours to complete, and serves as a reminder at how burnt out I would get requiring myself to create these ridiculously perfect drawings.

A change in outlook

I stumbled upon two webmasters and artists, bearlythere and sleepy crossing, that expressed the exact same thing about art: "Art is communication." It's so groundbreaking, simple, and beautiful to me. Its follow-up question is, "what do you have to say?"

What do you do when your art has nothing to say?

I don't know. Practice? Practice having something to say. Prove to myself that it's safe to express, or at least that I'll be okay if someone doesn't respond kindly to my work. I think expressing myself is a muscle that has since atrophied. It'll take time to reach a functioning state without the pain of exertion.

This might help

There are a few things that help me challenge the perfectionism. I am attempting to keep a sketchbook. Somewhere I saw advice urging to keep the sketchbook sacred. Don't show it to anybody. It challenges the compulsion to post everything I create online, and it removes the anticipation of the critical gaze of others. I'm not going to tear anything out or give up this time. (Even if I do give up, I can forgive myself. No progress is lost). Another thing I want to keep in mind is that allowing myself to make bad work is freeing and okay. A third consideration is that I may die someday having never reached my artistic potential. I want to create a webcomic someday. I need to be practicing and building up my skills. More importantly, I need to be ready to be average at it.

Endeavoring to change

I'm sick of telling and retelling the same old story. I want it to play out differently next time we chat. I don't want to hurt anymore. I ask myself now, can I be kind to myself? Can I permit myself to make imperfect work? Can I live with myself having made that work?