Perfectionism and Art: When Worlds Collide


“Blue Eyes” 8×8 oil on canvas SOLD


What is the relationship between perfectionism and art? Allow me to digress for a moment and then come back to that.

In junior high my cousin Jacqueline and I filled journals with pictures we cut out of teen bop magazine and quotes we got from God-knows-where since the internet was not yet a thing.

“No one walks into a room and thinks, WOW!” you’ve got a great personality”– that’s the page I remember most vividly whether because of the prowess of my bubble letters and polka-dot skills or the fact that it’s representative of our fashion-magazine philosophies.

As an older (and a bit more angsty) teenager, I reviled feel-good quotes as too simplistic and un-nuanced. Eventually a teacher of teenage girls, I was again surrounded by the one-liners my students, too, plastered on their school planners and social media pages; Again, I was unimpressed.

But now I’m finding joy once more in the often times pseudo-profound quotes I read in pleasantly designed graphics on pinterest or facebook. One, in particular, has been nagging me since I read it a week ago:


When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.

Which brings me to the overwhelming question: Am I, too, a perfectionist? Anyone who’s been in my room or studio would laugh at such a suggestion. I have never been one to have spots for things– rather, they collect in the piles and stacks most people call messes. When I paint, I do so with confidence I haven’t quite earned. I do not clean my brushes well and am unconcerned when colors run or turn muddy. I enjoy drips. I like paintings that look effortless and can hardly appreciate that which appears painstakingly tedious. I teach at Painting with a Twist, and immediately dismiss the perfectionism of my party-goers in favor of brushstrokes that are fast, loose, and free.


I’ve been doing a lot of portraits lately. And I’ve been painting and repainting. Obsessing even. It’s not that I want the paint to blend smoothly or perfectly but that I want to keep the looseness even as I continue to add the detail that creates a likeness. I’m struggling.

8×10 oil on canvas. Round 1
8×8, oil on canvas. Second attempt at same painting

This painting is a second go. I’m into square compositions lately and so disregarded my long list of paintings I need to accomplish this month to redo a painting I’d already done. The first go started splendidly, but the more I painted, the more the quality I’d originally liked so much vanished into less distinct brushstrokes and colors.

I know what kind of painter I want to be, but, like anything, it’s a matter of getting there, which for me is sometimes being a perfectionist about not being a perfectionist.

And if I learn to be a bit more compassionate in the process– less frustrated by those who use tiny brushes and lots and lots of time, well, than I guess I can live with that.



Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

December 10, 2014

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