Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More On Perfectionism and Perseverance

Here's another timely quote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

"Ansel Adams, never one to mistake precision for perfection, often recalled the old adage that 'the perfect is the enemy of the good', his point being that if he waited for everything in the scene to be exactly right, he'd probably never make a photograph.

Adams was right: to require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do--away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes. Believing that artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct.) Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the pattern itself achieves perfection--a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit."

Ok. This is good stuff, but I'll tell you the real reason I'm so frantically inhaling this book, maniacally underlining every other paragraph like a madwoman on an out of control highlighter binge. It's because I'm taking this drawing class on Thursday nights, and it's not going well. I have been sorely tempted to quit.

I don't know what the hell was wrong with me last week, but my drawings just wouldn't come together. I couldn't relax into the proper mind zone to draw, and I felt like something was somehow off with my vision. My depth perception was distorted, and my proportions were absurdly out of whack. I just couldn't seem to do anything right.

It's a really nice little class, down at the nearby college. The people are friendly, I like the teacher (except when he stands directly behind me and watches me draw, which causes me to go straight into freeze mode). The model was wonderful: a graceful, voluptuous young art student who actually took off her clothes, and who knew how to pose. Everything was great, except for me: I totally sucked.

And yeah, I got discouraged. I got depressed. I wanted to quit. But don't worry, I'm not going to quit. I really want to take this class, and I want to enjoy myself. And thanks to this encouraging little book, I'm going back tomorrow night and try again.

The truth is, though, it's not really just about this drawing class. I've been feeling like such a failure in about nine million ways lately. I mean, I failed to be a healthy person; I failed to be a prosperous or even solvent person; I failed to be a person in love. Understandably, my sense of self-worth has kind of taken a hit. Come on: wouldn't yours? As a result, every new little failure seems to take a bigger bite out of me than it normally would have, know, before. I've been feeling so weary and discouraged, and since quitting the Big Things isn't really an option, I sort of feel like quitting the things I can quit, right and left. Like, just fuck it all! Hell yeah, I have days like that. Wouldn't you?

I feel like what I really really need right now is to be spectacularly and indisputably good at something. And silly me, I thought maybe a little figure drawing class down at the local college might be a safe bet. But as usual, the frickin Universe doesn't see things my way. The frickin Universe has decided that what I really need right now is to fail and fuck up even more! Perhaps this is the frickin Universe's idea of a lesson in humility, or a test of perseverance, or a hilarious joke. Who the hell knows. Whatever, I'm telling you: it's a frickin pain in the ass.

Take tonight in dog training class, for example. The standard poodles pranced around doing perfect tricks like professional acrobats. The Labs followed commands with goofy enthusiasm. And the damn border collie (there's always one in every class) sat on the front row with its calculator doing everybody's taxes. But my dog? My big dunce wouldn't do a single goddamn thing we'd worked on all week. Instead, he barked nonstop at the gerbils; he charged at the parakeet cage, knocking over three chairs and a table in the process; he picked a fight with a Newfie puppy that's already bigger than my car; he chased a Weimaraner up and down the cat food aisle; and as if all that wasn't enough, he had diarrhea right in the middle of the ring. I mean, sheesh. Can't I ever get a break?

Ah well. I'm hoping that tomorrow's drawing class won't be quite as humiliating as last week's. And that if I can't be good at anything else, at least maybe I can be good at steadily plodding ever onward, without quitting, without giving up.

7 minute pose

10 minute pose

"The seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece." --Bayles & Orland


Blogger Rennie said...

Sorry, you cutie. you cannot have this day of perceived imperfection and non-accomplishment as I am already having it, and I have "things", a job, a house, albeit with a mortgage and three kids and a dog, who may I frankly say, is just not nearly as cute as yours. At least you can Take yours to school. Mine ripped the leash out of my hand today in our new neighborhood, tore off the skin and proceeded to try to eat two little mutts; those neighbors will not be inviting us to next year's block party. What you need is My dog in your group, plus his breath smells of dead fish. I have been thinking a LOT about the perfect being the enemy of the good lately and am so glad you explored it. I had been admiring your recent drawings and wishing I could do a decent stick figure. It is HARD for those of us raised female in the 50's to stop trying to be perfect. But you--look at the risks you let us into your soul,you write well, write humor well, not easy to do, and you write eloquently. You produced a son who pens witty messages back and forth with you and who is bringing you a grandchild to love, adore and inspire. You CONNECT people... connection is the soil for the seeds of love. Take the compliment, Grandma Monkeybutter.(can't you work out a nana/banana name for yourself, maybe B'Nana MB). And for heaven's sake bring back the red boots. AND, this is BIG, kindly examine the job title, wealth,oil wells, power, etc of the current White House occupant, whose legacy will be a trail of bodies. Now what kind of person would you rather be? Rennie

12:51 AM  
Blogger Tabitha said...

LOL at least you can be around dogs..I am exiled from all pet shops because of severe dog allergies. But I digress... I just wanted to tell you that your art is wonderful, and your life is, as always, a daily inspiration..

PS...Tell Finn to blog some more...his is overdue a post.:)

1:17 AM  
Blogger Betsey C. said...

Hmmmm, I think Superman's bad behavior was your payback for dressing him up like Frida!

7:00 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Having done the dog training and the art class, I concur: they can be some of the most frustrating activities possible. But there is nothing cooler than that groove you hit when all is going well, is there? It's just a Zen moment of pure joy. You've had it, or you wouldn't be doing it. And nothing feels further away than that feeling when it's just not working. But you go back - because you remember that feeling. And it comes. I promise.

And as little consolation as this will be, I expect - your seven-minute drawing is great. That's a really hard pose to make look natural. You have the angles right, the proportions are dead on. Nice one, lady.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Lin said...

In the art world, I believe one of the most famous quotes is “Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”

9:21 AM  
Blogger Carla said...

If I can delurk here for a moment just to say that some of my best work is done in the time after I spectacularly fail. For some reason, failing takes away the fear - you've hit the wall and walked away. What else is there to be afraid of? Just keep moving forward my friend.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You are spectacularly and indisputably good at writing, and I look forward to your blogular activities daily.

Perfectionism is the reason I never seem to have time to work on my "real" work, drawing. I have been paralyzed for years at a time because of it, and it is the hardest thing in the world to let go of. Yet, my lack of satisfaction is directly related to my paralysis, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Theoretically, I have set aside Fridays to begin to work myself up to making art again. The best I've managed is to switch to sewing that I do for myself, not for the purse business. I'm inching my way up to real work, but I'm not there yet.

Perfectionism is the monster in my closet, and if Berke Breathed were drawing it, it would speak in a cultured accent and stare me down at every opportunity. Fridays will be days designed around locking that monster in the closet and not letting it out until I'm sure it's starved to death. You can do that, too, Liz, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, at least the bad dog gave you an amusing anecdote to tell. Diarrhea in class---man, that's something else.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Rose said...

I'm fixating on one sentence: I failed to be a healthy person.

You did not cause the lymphoma. You did nothing wrong.

You did not fail.

On the contrary - it is because you had taken such meticulous, exquisite care of your body that you were able to beat that cancerous bitch back with a vengeance.

You did not fail.

12:01 PM  
Blogger layne said...

WTF?? PhotoBucket censored your drawing!!

Big Brother, begone!

12:39 PM  
Blogger Patrizia said...

What obscene thing did poor little Photobucket have to take down, you naughty girl, you.

Elizbeth, you write like an angel. And your voice can be very commercial. That's praise, by the way. Your style reminds me a lot of the highly successful Elizabeth (Eat, Pray, Do Something Else But I Forget What That Is) Gilbert's.

And, of course, you're not soliciting advice so I'm not going to give you any. Just ruminating here... You've touched a lot of lives with this blog. I think you could touch many people with a book. You're not in the mood to hustle right now, I understand. But my wish for you is that this will happen.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Lymphopo said...

Oh for heavens sake, I can't believe they censored a charcoal drawing of a nude model. Sheesh. I switched to Flickr: is that better?

1:22 PM  
Blogger TWINTALES said...

Sometimes we get lost in our failures and lose sight of our successes. You have raised two smart, emotionally intelligent men who are making positive contributions to society.
You successfully battled an aggressive cancer under extremely difficult financial and personal circumstances.
The reason I tune into your blog regularly is not because you're perfect -- it's because you write about humanity in an honest way. Sometimes you make me think, sometimes you make me laugh, at times you have made me weep.
Keep trying and keep writing.
And, that superdog of yours is just beautiful.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Deanna said...

Hah! I think your drawings look incredible. If I had done them they'd all look like a foot.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

i just want to say something that you are effortlessly amazing at is inspiring strangers. thank you.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Another thought - sometimes we are too close to our own selves, our own work, our own lives to see the beauty of them. It's only when other people see them - or when we see them years later or far away, when we no longer identify with them so closely - that we realize what they were.
You have some striking art there, lady. It's not what you want because you are pushing yourself. Push. But don't forget to go back and look at this stuff, too.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Liz: Can you please put that book in your Deep Inferno Trading post list? I've already bought and enjoyed some of the books you recommended, and I know I NEED this book--I basically stopped writing for the reasons described there. I'm such a fool! Anyway, I want to get that book pronto, and I'd really like a percentage to go to you--so there. Thanks! Oh, and also thanks for posting those quotes--they're really eye-openers for me.

2:49 PM  
Blogger miz b said...

You are a spectacularly good writer. I don't think you could write something bad even if you tried very hard and didn't give up. And your writing brings people enormous joy!

4:07 PM  
Blogger palomino said...

I think your drawings have energy and impact and there is a lot of potential there for more. You should not let drawing hands frustrate you--that is usually the most difficult part to draw of the entire body. Perhaps you could practice out of class just on forearms and hands using an illustrated art book for samples.

Your lines convey power and form well and I love how you draw knees. I think what you really need to make you happier with your drawing is the right model--a strapping, athletic man! You would be in heaven drawing all those muscles. Suggest a change in model to your instructor.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Something to muse on.... the Navajo deliberately introduce a fault into every rug they weave. To not do so would be an insult to the gods.

Perfection is not a goal to be achieved, but something to be avoided.

Be of light heart in your creating.

Your stuff looks great to me, and I'm a bit of the perfectionist myself.

10:50 PM  
Blogger citygrrrl said...

you have got to stop feeding that dog mexican food in preparation for your upcoming trip!

7:15 PM  

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