On a hot, sticky day last summer, I stood, sweating, in the middle of my studio, wondering how to pack and move all the supplies filling the drawers, shelves, and desktop. Papers and paints, glitter and tape runners and a pile of props–gadgets to help me make art faster and better.
The new place is smaller. My office/studio is bigger, but it has no closets and would also be the guest room. Shedding supplies was mandatory. And a relief.
I’d fallen into the perfectionist trap. Here’s how it works: You like an art medium. You work and enjoy it , but your end product doesn’t look like the result you imagined. (See a previous post on creality.) Instead of practicing till you get better, you think, “what can I buy that will make this perfect quickly?”
Congratulations! You have just bought into the corporatization of craft. Craft (and art) is now following the American business model:
- work fast
- work hard
- get it right the first time
- figure out how to produce a perfect result faster and consistently
- sell the method or sell the result. Just sell something.
Great for cars and appliances, but the kiss of death for the restorative soul work that is art.
I’ve ranted about kits, which encourage assembly skills, a kind of perfection that has nothing to do with creativity. I ranted about companies that created short cuts to perfection–all the cutting, folding, coloring, punching, designing machines in which the only imagination necessary is choosing which shape and a color.
Most of the resulting emails scolded me, claiming that machines help people become creative, eliminating tedious work. I wanted to believe that, but it wasn’t true for most people.
Watching people roll a suitcase stuffed with gadgets into an art class taught me that craft is no longer an amateur activity. Or an easy one. Since your friends will judge you on the perfection of the final product, enlist as many products and machines as possible. And if you can’t afford all the equipment, then sit in the corner and meditate with your adult coloring book. But don’t color outside the lines.
We are drifting away from the real purpose of doing creative work—restoring your soul through your hands. Connecting the dots of your dreams. Figuring out if this is your next step or simply an interesting side path. Creating, failing, and continuing teaches patience, color choice, spatial understanding. The real work of art is turning failure into art through persistence, learning from what went wrong, solving problems.
My studio was crammed with devices designed to prop up my hope and tempt me to buy more in
pursuit of perfection. I was disappointed, then angry. Not only at my gullible self, but also at the corporations who produce the gadgets and pay artists to make us want them.
True handmade art is no longer valued. We want the slick perfection we see in a mass-marketed item, but we want to create that look ourselves.
Artists today make a decent living by becoming a designer for a large company, putting their name on a line of paints, journals, or stencils, and selling them. They add income when they demonstrate and sell their proprietary items in classes. I’m not judging those who do this, I’m simply pointing out that creativity can’t thrive if we use the business model and turn artists into marketing machines.
Most people who have spent any time working in a business can be pushed just a bit more, into being a perfectionist. The craft gadget producers understood that really quickly. We take classes that show us how to use machines to make perfect art. We use kits and assemble projects to make a gift. But our souls are not nourished, not fulfilled. Instead, we show off our new gadget while looking around for the next one. Our hands remain busy while our souls remain hungry.
Before the move, I gave away half of my art supplies. They filled up every crevice in a full-size SUV. I kept basics–pencils, watercolor pencils, paper, scissors, glue, markers, inks, and watercolors. I’m working simply. Sketching. Hand-lettering. Thinking through composition. Experimenting. Failing. Working some more.
Want to see what I’m doing? No you don’t. It’s filled with mistakes. Some of it is awful. None of it is perfect. I love it. Practice helps me learn like nothing else does. I love the words that bubble up while I’m working. I love the feeling that I am doing something important for developing the deep, inside part that is no longer starving.
I’m not criticizing people who sign up with big companies and become the spokesperson for products. In a culture where we no longer teach cursive writing; where “fast and easy” is the magic word to selling gadgets; where coloring and copying designs is sold as “meditation,” it’s hard to make living that goes against the grain.
I have chosen not to follow the wave. I will support my art through other work. I don’t find that terrible, nor does it disqualify me as an artist. Instead, it gives me the creative freedom I was looking for when I picked up my first watercolor pencil.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach. She is working on hand-lettering poetry in a hand-made, alternative journal.
Laurie’s word of the year is “pomegranate,” chosen after experiencing this fruit for the first time on a trip to Israel. Pomegranates traditionally represent fruitfulness, knowledge, learning and wisdom. The blossom end of a pomegranate is said to have been used to design the first pointed crown.