Perfectionism. We artists know it well. When is a work finished? When is it ready? When is it perfect? This is unsurprisingly also a common issue brought to the therapy chair. The pressure to be perfect seems to be omnipresent in our modern lives. Artists feel this especially strongly when it comes to their work. Caution, creatives: perfection is dangerous, and nonexistent.
The reason perfectionism is nonexistent is because it is also relative. As applied to an art form, even more so. Ask yourself, who declares if something is perfect or not? If it is you, where did you get your standard of perfect? What is your reference as to what that means? There is no one perfect painting, dance, writing, or piece of music. The beauty of the creative arts is the variety, not the homogeneity that would be necessary to create a standard of perfection. By trying to achieve something as “perfect” you are limiting yourself and blocking your creative flow.
Accepting your art for what it wants to be is a powerful part of expressing it. Some creative therapists will talk about the “imaginal” quality of artwork. This refers to the work existing intrinsically, separately from our own standards, requirements or other cognitive interference. This approach suggests that imaginal work is some of the highest levels of creativity one can achieve. When you are making work, ask yourself what does the work want to become? How is it guiding its own expression in its creation? Does the work want to be more realistic, or more expressive? Does it want to be bold or subdued? Let your choices in creating the work be organically guided by your feelings and instincts as you create. This is the antithesis of the control and obsession of perfectionism. Focus instead on allowing the process to make the work its own. This is ultimate catharsis and expression.
I said that perfectionism can be dangerous. Maybe you are a perfectionist in your artwork, but not in other areas of your life (you don’t mind being five minutes late but the horrors if you hit an A if it should have been an A#). I contend that if you adopt a method of perfectionism in your artwork, it will impact other areas of your life, starting with your self esteem. Create art work and fail to meet an impossible standard (we already agree that perfectionism is impossible) and you tell your psyche that you have failed. That you are not good enough. This will also discourage you from being creative- and creating is your life force! Let go of the idea that your work has to be a certain way, and accept it for the way that it is. Then watch as you gradually start to treat and accept yourself in this same way. We are not homogenous, our work is always different, and all that uniqueness in its IMPERFECTION is what makes you (dare I say it) perfect.
Here is something to try. Of course, try it as part of your work in your therapy session (don’t exacerbate yourself without this extra layer of support!):
I challenge you to do something imperfectly. Not organically, but intentionally “wrong.” In art school I was working on an assignment and drew a life-sized, anatomically perfect, human skeleton. Imagine my shock when my professor told me to take a piece of charcoal and blacken the whole piece out. I want you to do something like this. Make something and then make a big SNAFU. Now breathe. How do you feel? How does your body feel? What are you experiencing? Discomfort? Anger? Anxiety? Breathe through and experience the moment. You did it! You made something “imperfect” and you are ok! After I blackened out my drawing, my professor told me to “push and pull” lightening and darkening the smudges over the drawing, to create a brand new piece. Take your “messed up” work and create something new and different. What does the new piece want to be? Pay attention to your reaction to this new process. Do you feel freedom? Satisfaction? Possibility? This is how creating should feel!
Come schedule a session and let’s talk about how you are impacted by perfectionism. Let’s get unstuck. Let’s get creatively free. Let’s create your best life.
© 2017 Creatively, LLC
A regular struggle for creative people is the creative block. Writers have writer’s blocks, painters have artistic blocks- we all have things that interfere with the flow of our creative energies. There are many reasons for creative blocks and they all impact us in different ways. In a previous blog post, we looked at using mindfulness to address a lack of inspiration. For the purpose of this exercise let’s examine some of the physical things that get in your way. In other words, what about the atmosphere of your daily life interferes with your ability to create?
What is your ideal creative time? What are you doing? Where are you working? What are you using? What do you hear, see, smell? Take a moment and envision the space. Envision the project. Are you making creative time part of your regular life? Most of us aren’t. We already know that creative people need to create like we need to eat and sleep. Why aren’t we prioritizing being creative? What are some of your barriers to creating?
For many of us it is about time. We have full time jobs, we have families to care for, households to run, other priorities. For many of us it is about money. We have recurring expenses in our lives and can’t carve out extra for supplies. Sometimes it is about space. We live in a home where every room is already spoken for. Where are we supposed to create? On the kitchen table? Maybe! Often, a barrier is motivation and/or creative energy. The problem with a lack of creative energy and motivation is it is its own feedback loop: the less creative we are, the less creative energy we have, and vice versa. Where is a creative person to start to address all of these obstacles?
An important part of therapy is basic problem solving. I say basic to emphasize fundamental more than simple- it is a first step but not an easy one. Go back to your vision of your perfectly spent creative time. Describe it. You can write about it, talk about it, draw about it, make a list- but do something to qualify it. Next, think about if you were to do something creative RIGHT NOW. What do you need? What is preventing you? Again, do something to document this. Put the “ideal” and the “real” creative time side by side. What are you lacking? Great! You have taken your first step to addressing your creative barriers. Now, let’s problem solve.
If you have a list of differences from this exercise, prioritize them based on need. How critical are they to your creative time? Once they are prioritized, you will know what you need to accomplish first for regular creating to become a reality in your life. Don’t put this off! Accept that it is a basic need and something you will work towards in some way each day. If your first item from your list feels too monumental- break it down further. This is goal setting 101: you want to set yourself up to succeed, so set goals that are bite-sized and reachable.
Of course, another vital part of this process is to get support. With my help you can get support in the form of therapy. Bring other healthy people in your life onboard as part of your process. Let’s work on this together and bring more creativity into your daily life!
© 2017 Creatively, LLC
Transference is a phenomena in psychology in which we project on people expectations and judgments based on past experiences. Sometimes it is age related, other times gender, it can be as simple as how someone looks or speaks, or something different altogether. It is something that, as counselors, we are very aware of and try to prepare for. Will we remind a patient of a significant other? An ex? A parent? A friend? Even though we know that you know that we are not that person, subconsciously, you may still treat us differently based on the transference. For example, I remind a child of an adult she doesn’t trust, so she is less likely to talk to me during session.
Transference is how you feel about me. Countertransference, is how I feel about you back. As human beings, of course we react to each other. You react to me based on your experiences and I react back to you based on mine. We both respond to our treatment of each other. Together, transference and countertransference can be both powerful tools or destructive forces in a therapeutic relationship.
Transference and countertransference exist in more than just a therapeutic setting. They are clinical-speak for how we all react and interact to each other every day. My new boss reminds me of an old boss so I’m cautious. A new friend reminds you of a bad relationship so you take your time. There are endless occurrences in our daily lives. I had an employer in my college days who explained to me his “Mirror theory,” in which he believed that generally people feel about you the way you feel about them. Thinking about transference and countertransference, this may often be true!
How do transference and countertransference apply to you as a creative person? Studies have shown that people are drawn to creative personalities. The unique ways of thinking and seeing the world that are innate to you, are attractive to others. This is a part of what draws people to your creative works as well. Additionally, research indicates that creative people, when in the presence of other creative people, can transfer creative energy to each other in a positive way.
So we see that our judgements about others are natural and based on our experiences. In turn, these impact their experiences of us and our relationships together. Creatively, our personalities are exciting and magnetic, and a good way to recharge those creative batteries is to get together with other creative people. Creativity isn’t just what you do, it is who you are! The more you learn about your creative personality, the more you will begin to understand the healing and positive impact it has on you and those around you. It is how you live your best life!
(c) 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
the Creativity blog
Creative exercises, psychoeducation, therapy skills, practice updates and more. Want updates in a newsletter? Go to the homepage to subscribe, and don't miss a thing.
is a Creativity Coach, Creativity Counselor and Professional Artist in Sykesville, Maryland. She provides Online Creativity Counseling in Maryland and Virginia, and Online Creativity Coaching throughout the USA, Canada and the UK.
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.