Is Your Artist a Perfectionist?

At our co-op this year, I’m teaching a senior high art class. This is the first time in a while that I’ve taught older students, and we’re having a lot of fun with the projects. The purpose of the class is to show the students different techniques for drawing and painting and to introduce them to new types of media. Hopefully in doing so, they’ll find something they enjoy doing as a creative outlet, whether or not they pursue art in the future.

Recently, a comment was made that got me thinking. After working with oil pastels, one of the students stated that he really didn’t like anything he drew. This reminded me of my own 12-year-old daughter who, after participating in numerous art classes in my home, has sworn off art forever. Both students are perfectionists, and if the image on the paper doesn’t appear like the one they envision, they are unhappy with it. My daughter will even say that she’s wasted her time in drawing the picture.

But it’s never a waste of time. Every time you try something new, you learn something — you work your brain, you dip into your creative abilities (latent though they may be), and you grow as a person. And drawing, just like any other skill, takes time — it takes know-how and practice to become proficient. Why do we assume we should be able to create a great drawing just by picking up a pencil? True, some people are so gifted they can do that, but the rest of us need to work at it, just as we need to work at learning an instrument or learning how to crochet. Would we expect someone to build a house without first learning how to use the tools?

If you have a child who’s a perfectionist and become discouraged about art, remind him that drawing and painting are skills that he can learn. Then set it aside for a while, but encourage him to try other creative avenues (my daughter is currently involved in scrapbooking and really enjoying it). He may come back to art, or he may not. But either way, he would know that he could.

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