Sunday, October 5, 2008

Speaking of Perfectionism

This was my first post at marmee's musings.

I am a recovering perfectionist.

Sometimes when I say that, people chuckle. I assume they think I'm making a joke -- parodying AA's famous introductory statement: "Hi, I'm Kathy, and I'm an alcoholic." Believe me, perfectionism is no joke.

Some see perfectionism as an admirable quality because they equate it with excellence. However, there is a big difference. People who seek excellence do their best at any given endeavor; they are able to differentiate the finished product from themselves. Their motto is I did my best, and my best is good enough. Perfectionists, on the other hand, see falling short of excellence as a character flaw. They think I should have tried harder; I'm a failure.

So what does this all have to do with strawberries? Well, recently, I was enrolled in a beginner's water color class through a local adult education program. The first night the teacher showed us (among other things) how to use materials such as alcohol, salt, rubber cement, etc., to create certain looks to our paintings. In the second session, he brought some fruit and asked us to create a still life, incorporating one of the techniques he had taught the previous week.

I sketched some strawberries and an apple then dotted the berries with rubber cement, so when I applied the red paint, it would leave white spots. When the red paint was dry, I could then rub off the cement and apply a different color to create the seeds.

The apple was a disaster from the first stroke. I used the wrong brush to get the needed effect, and I applied yellow paint first, which bled into my red, leaving my apple looking more like a peach. So, I abandoned it and turned to the strawberries, which at one point looked pretty good, if I do say so myself. Well, the berries were too pale, and the seeds were too big, but otherwise, they looked pretty good.

Several people, including the instructor, peeked over my shoulder and agreed; the strawberries had turned out pretty well. The class then moved onto a different project -- except for me. I fixated on my strawberries that just looked "pretty good" but not perfect. So. . .

I mixed some more red paint with water and painted over each berry. Now, water color is not like oil paint, which can be painted over and over and over without doing any damage. I turned my pretty red berries into this muddy mess as the seed's yellowish brown color bled into the red color. By the time I was done, they looked like the berries the produce customer would have designated for the compost pile.

Because I am a recovering perfectionist, I was able to separate my self-image from my picture. I did not feel like a moral failure because I ruined my strawberries. Still, I saw my old nemesis raise his ugly head, and I learned another object lesson: leave the strawberries alone.

1 comment:

Damme said...

Yeah, Perfectionism is quite painful. It can ruin one's life or make it colorless.