Why Making Art Is Messy

Flower Child on the Porch by Jann Alexander © 2008

“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived . . . Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation . . .  Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Is there an artist on earth who hasn’t strived for perfection in her work, and when failing to achieve it, isn’t disheartened by her efforts? Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and artists are among the most self-critical when beholding their own paintings. Like the extremely geometric subject I chose for Flower Child on the Porch, my objective demanded perfection. Yet it was the happiest moment for the painting, and artist, when my inability to paint an exacting photographic-style piece of art forced itself. Only then could I release the juxtaposed clutter of lines and right angles in the scene, gracefully, to become what they would be.

Don’t fear the misplaced stroke. Commit to loving every color of the imperfect ride.  Tweet: Don't fear the misplaced stroke. Commit to loving every color of the imperfect ride. http://ctt.ec/J45as+

Ultimately, making art is messy for a reason. It’s to remind us that we won’t ever get it just right, or even close to perfect. The very act of mixing the oils that eventually attach themselves to eyebrows and the brushstrokes that seem to require constant fussing and correcting is art’s way of telling us: Making art is just like living life. Life isn’t perfect, either. So give it up. Relax. Don’t hold your breath. Accept your desire for perfection. But don’t let it hurt your artistic zeal. Don’t fear the misplaced stroke. It’s all part of the process. Commit to loving every color of the imperfect ride. 

Have you conquered the fear of the imperfect painting yet? How?

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