Breaking Free from the Shackles of Perfectionism in Art

Perfectionism: The Paralyzing Pursuit of Excellence

In the artistic world, perfectionism looms like a shadow over many creatives, often becoming a barrier to their true expression. It's the relentless pursuit of an unattainable ideal, a masterpiece that perfectly embodies our vision and the high standards we perceive others expect from us. This pursuit, while driven by a noble desire for excellence, can paradoxically lead to a creative paralysis – the fear of starting or completing a project, and a loss of the joy that once fueled our artistic endeavors.


Colorful, messy watercolors.


Perfectionism in art occurs for a lot of reasons. It stems from our own internal critic, societal pressures, or the comparison with peers whose work we admire. For me, it's usually my inner critic paired with comparing myself to other artists on Instagram. The constant bombardment of exceptional work on social media platforms exacerbates this, making us feel as though our work must always be groundbreaking and universally applauded. The irony is that this relentless pursuit of perfection can stifle creativity, leaving us feeling stuck and dissatisfied.


How then do we break free from this cycle? How do we strike a balance between striving for quality and being paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection? Here are three exercises designed to help artists break through the block of perfectionism:

  1. The 'Imperfect' Piece Exercise:

    • Objective: To create a piece of art intentionally imperfect.
    • Process: Begin with a medium you're comfortable with. Set a timer for a short period, maybe 30 minutes. The goal is to create something in this time frame without aiming for perfection. Let go of the urge to correct or modify. Embrace every stroke or line as it is, no matter how flawed it might seem.
    • Outcome: This exercise teaches us to embrace imperfections in our work. It's a reminder that not every piece has to be a masterpiece and that there’s beauty in imperfection.
  2. Incremental Progress Challenge:

    • Objective: To focus on small, continuous improvements in your art.
    • Process: Choose an aspect of your art you want to improve – it could be color blending, line work, or any other specific element. Over a period, focus solely on improving this one aspect. Each day, spend a little time refining this skill, regardless of the outcome in the overall piece.
    • Outcome: Inspired by James Clear's "1% better every day," this challenge shifts the focus from creating a perfect piece to improving a single aspect of your work. It’s about progress, not perfection.
  3. Realistic Goal Setting:

    • Objective: To set achievable targets that focus on the process rather than just the end result.
    • Process: Before starting a new project, define what success looks like for this particular piece. It should be specific, measurable, and realistic. For instance, instead of aiming to create 'the best painting I’ve ever done,' set a goal like 'experiment with a new technique or color scheme.'
    • Outcome: By setting realistic and achievable goals, we can alleviate the pressure of perfectionism. It allows us to focus on and enjoy the process of creation, which is often where the true joy of art lies.


Perfectionism in art is a common challenge, but by understanding why it occurs and how it manifests in our work, we can adopt strategies to overcome it. Remember, art is not just about the end product; it’s about the journey, the learning, and the growth that happens along the way. Embracing this mindset can free us from the shackles of perfectionism, allowing our creativity to flow more freely and authentically.