Art Imitates Life

12 December 2018

As I stare at the cursor pondering what exactly I will write for this essay, I can feel the tension inside my brain. The anal perfectionist that resides there is edgily tapping her perfectly shined shoes waiting for a sliver of self doubt so she can begin her spiteful tirade on the countless ways that I do everything wrong. This time, I refuse to let this happen. She will not get the best of my brain today, I’ve got writing to do. Tap away little Miss Perfect, because I am not listening anymore.

I did not always used to stand up to her. In fact, my desire to do everything right meant I practically let Perfection waltz right on in and make herself at home in my frontal cortex. She undoubtedly was the one wearing the pants in the relationship, and the shirt too for that matter. It would be a great testament to my character if I stated that I saw the light and got out of the relationship that was crippling my every endeavor, however I would be lying. Truth be told, it was combination of many things; frustration, a paintbrush, and a man named Joe, that flipped on the switch of enlightenment that helped me silence Miss Perfect once and for all.

I spent a lot of this past July painting in a studio surrounded by various exotic fruits as I tried to recreate their likeness. Perfection spent a lot of this past July telling me how terrible my work was and if I tweaked this brush stroke or blended the warm and cool tones just so, I might create at least a passable painting. Being slightly uncertain of my abilities I believed her. So naturally there I was, my face three inches from the canvas attempting to copy every single hot spot, shadow, and hue. It was sweaty futile determination at its finest. A few tired hours later I stopped, practically on the verge of the tears due to frustration. For all intents and purposes I should have painted the most beautiful realistic piece of fruit ever seen. But that was not the case, and I could not understand how such painstaking work could yield such mediocre results. I wanted to throw something, preferably that mango, out the window. Maybe Perfection was right, I was no good.

Joe happened to swoop in right as my sanity began to unravel and the carpal tunnel began to set in. My painting teacher was a cryptic, elegantly disheveled man of metaphor. He glanced for a moment between me and the painting, pondering what he would say next. Smiling his trademark half grin, he opened his mouth and delivered some of the most simple, but helpful advice I have ever received. “Take a step back” Now, at the time his words seemed pretty unhelpful, especially since he had given no explanation for them. But since I seemed to have exhausted myself of all other options, I decided to give it a try. I took his advice literally, stepping back a good fifteen feet from where I was sitting. It might have been the fatigue or possibly the paint fumes but something clicked when I looked at the fruit that had caused me so much grief. It was fuzzy, undistinguished, and in a sense, gray. Listening to the perfectionist inside of me had not made me a better painter, in fact, listening to her had not made me better at much of anything. I was able to silence the voice in my head when I realized that Perfection and everything she stood for is an illusion. What if I had spend my entire life overanalyzing decisions the way I had over this painting? Where would I be? Unhappy, that is a given, but what opportunities would I have missed? I could not control every aspect of my painting any more than I could control everything that happened in my life. Standing back from what I was working on made me realize it’s the things I cannot control, the spontaneous bursts of color, the bold and risky brushstrokes, are what give the painting its vitality. And I am not willing to sacrifice my vitality for negative illusions.

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