A gal on Twitter whom I’ve followed for some time, who is a loving mom and an extremely creative homemaker (among many other accomplishments), recently posed this question:
Having attended one social painting class (and having kept my painting, and having hung it in my house), I couldn’t help but feel there was a bit of friendly ribbing going on here. Especially with the word art in quotation marks. Why is it “art” and not just art? Because it isn’t really art? Why not?
But it was her follow-up comment that really got me thinking:
Here was my immediate, unfiltered response:
“Well, you probably have your KIDS’ random mediocre art hanging all over your house – so why is yours any less worthy?”
Now please understand, that’s not an attack on her kids – or anyone’s kids. I proudly displayed my daughter’s projects and pictures on the fridge and elsewhere, all throughout her childhood.
Kids’ art is precious. It is pure, free, raw creative expression, and its innocence is precisely why we celebrate it.
But it also shows, for the most part, a complete lack of technical perfection. It lacks an understanding of the principles of design. It’s random. And as art, it’s mediocre – at best – except for the beautiful fact of who created it. Which again, is what makes it completely worthy of being put on display!
So why does our kids’ art deserve to be posted on the fridge, despite its imperfections, but not our own? What is it about being an adult that makes you think your art – lacking the same perfection as that created by your children – is any less precious? Any less worthy?
One of the problems in our society is that for so many of us, our creative self-expression gets squeezed out of our being by the time we get through our mandatory formal education. We are trained to seek perfection, correctness in our methods, and skill in our results. This follows us throughout our lives, where we are expected to achieve some standard of perfection in all pursuits: professional, athletic, creative, and on and on.
And for some reason, we feel ashamed when our work does not show the level of perfection we think it should have now that we are adults. Seriously – how many times have you shown something you made to someone else, but actually apologized for its imperfections before letting them see it?
And perhaps worse, how many times have you denied yourself an opportunity to express your creativity because you just knew it wasn’t going “turn out right”?
This is what happens when your creative self-expression is stifled over a period of time – you call your painting a piece of “random mediocre art,” and you hide it away, destroy it, or at the very least, apologize for it. I do it to myself! I’ve blogged about it with comments like “I’m a trained monkey when it comes to painting” or “I don’t have the artistic gene.”
Why do I do this? Why does anyone do this? Because it’s part of that figurative baggage we carry as grown-ups: the notion that somehow, our creative work is not good enough because it isn’t perfect.
Now I don’t think that my friend on Twitter intended to suggest that she is afraid to express herself creatively. Her blog is filled with her many successes in decorating, home making, crafting, cooking, and more. But I know there are people who are afraid of this very thing, and it saddens me to think that this level of self-censorship exists to the extent that it keeps people from displaying their own creative efforts. It saddens me that a person would rather purchase a mass-produced piece of wall art at a big-box decor store, rather than take a chance and create their own piece.
One thing that my love of all things antique and vintage has reinforced for me is that there is value in imperfection. I love things that are vintage, precisely because of the fading, the dings, the dents, the chipping paint, the worn edges. These elements tell the story, and give the piece its sense of history.
I think that this appreciation and reverence for imperfection needs to extend to our own creative efforts. We need to celebrate our creativity, make things we feel like making, take pride in them, and stop apologizing when they don’t look like they were done by a master.
Because honestly, only a few people get to be masters of any endeavor. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should extinguish – or even apologize for – our creative, imperfect light.