I used to believe that I would know contentment as an artist when I created a painting with no mistakes in it.
I’ve been painting for 22 years and it hasn’t happened yet.
When my goal was a perfect painting, every mistake was a disaster. It was easy to feel defeated after working for hours on a painting and then messing up in the end stages. Imperfection kept me from taking pride in my work and gave me a feeling of shame when someone would praise my art (clearly they weren’t looking closely enough or they would have seen all the mistakes!).
We live in an era that has normalized perfection. With the advent of social media, individuals can curate their identities with carefully crafted images, status posts and tweets. To all appearances, we’ve opened up our lives on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat while the truth is that we show only what we want others to see.
While we are more accessible today than we have ever been before, this kind of selective sharing means that it is easy to assume that the glimpses we see into others’ lives is the whole story. Friends who never have a bad hair day, never yell at their children or spouses, who go on frequent, perfect vacations and never mess up at work or make a bad financial decision. When we do share a “vulnerable moment” we usually do it in a manner that presents that negative experience as far in the past, and we are wiser now.
I’m not saying we need to air all our dirty laundry on the internet. We should save opening up to those who have earned our trust and deepest friendship. However we all need to be careful not to fall into thinking that perfection is attainable, peace and sublime happiness are the constant to aspire to, and that conflict, sorrow and pain can be eliminated from our lives. Everyone lives in the dark sometimes.
In my paintings, accepting imperfection as inevitable gives me permission to love a flawed painting without shame. Mistakes don’t mean the beauty isn’t there, in fact, much of the time my mistakes add a beauty to my paintings that I never would have planned on my own. When I press forward despite feeling like my painting is no longer redeemable, I open myself up to the possibilities that there is hope despite my failings. When I ruin a painting I choose to look at the steps of exploration and self-expression as part of my journey, believing in second (and third, and forty-seventh!) chances.
I believe in being honest about my own imperfections as an artist. I love what I do and I love my art, but I am also aware that I have so much farther I want to go, so much more I want to do. I want to be better. And I trust, that as I keep painting, I will get to that milestone I’m looking at far ahead…and there will be another one, just a little further ahead…and I’ll paint toward that one too. It never ends. So I’m a student of watercolour, and if you are too, I love that we get to go on this adventure together. Join me at learn.angelafehr.com and work alongside me as I share the things I’ve learned and encouragement for the times when nothing seems to work and every painting is utter crap.
(It feels wrong to end an article with the word “crap” so I’m adding that we learn the most when we are willing to make mistakes and let them change us.) Here’s a picture of flowers to end on a pretty note: