Art doesn’t have to perfect: some thoughts from a non-artist

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I’ve never considered myself a particularly creative or artistic person. I’ve played flute for eight years and even went to a performing arts high school, but I personally don’t feel like that makes me inherently creative. Most musicians will probably disagree with me, but I always felt that it was the composer whose music I was performing that has done the creative legwork. It is up to me to interpret what is on the page, but even then I am limited by what the musicians who have come before me have decided is standard. However, the amount of free time on my hands since the start of the pandemic gave me the opportunity to try out some different forms of expression and helped me to realize that I actually do have the ability to be creative.

As someone who attended an art school and was surrounded constantly by extremely talented artists, I never even tried to test out my own abilities. I’ve always loved looking at art and hearing from student artists on their processes. I enjoyed walking by the art department and watching a blank canvas evolve into a beautiful work of art. My best friend at the time, who was in the visual art department, tried many times to teach me color theory or the basics of sketching, but I always found myself too plagued by anxiety to put a pen to paper. I knew that whatever I drew was going to look like a flaming pile of garbage, so why even try? My own perceptions of what art needed to be or look like, as well as my ever-present perfectionist tendencies, kept me from exploring this side of myself.

This summer, though, I found myself intrigued by the prospect of creating art myself for possibly the first time. I realized that in the comfort of my own home I had nothing to lose, so I sat down with my tablet and enrolled in a free trial of photoshop. I have since tried different tools and effects that the software offers, and, eventually, was able to create a design. To be fair, I only outlined the forms and shadows of a statue and then overlaid the lines onto a blank background, but I felt an immense sense of accomplishment at what I had done. It was a new experience to spend time on something and then be able to see a tangible final product, which is something I wasn’t really used to with music. When I perform, I work for months on a piece, go on stage, perform for an audience, and it’s over. I might have recordings to listen to afterward, but I have always used those more as a way to critique myself than as proof of my hard work.

Since that initial edit, I’ve created about nine pieces and learned a fair amount in the process. I learned that more simple color palettes look cleaner, a fine pen allows for greater detail, and that statues work much better than paintings for what I do. I’ve gotten better at working with Photoshop and have undertaken more ambitious and detail orientated projects. I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to create.

I’ve also found the act of drawing to be extremely therapeutic in itself. I live with anxiety, and the events of the pandemic and all that has followed have only served to make each day a little bit harder. Yet, my new hobby helped me to cope with the stress I was feeling. When I am drawing, I have to focus on creating straight lines and carefully outlining the statues’ forms; there is no time for me to stress myself out. As someone whose anxiety manifests in cyclical intrusive thoughts, doing an activity that requires me to be extremely focused on one action has helped to keep my anxiety under control.

Yet, more generally, I learned that art, or any hobby for that matter, doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve always approached all that I do with the mindset that if it’s not nearly perfect, there’s no point to try. I know how problematic a view like that is, but despite my best effort, I couldn’t change it. Creating art solely for myself has helped me start that process, though. With art, whether it be creating music or a painting, there is no such thing as perfect. All that matters is that I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m under no obligation to ever show my work to anyone; I can create solely for myself, and there’s something freeing about that.