The Peril of Perfection

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor…

~Anne Lamott

I awake from a dream about color, vivid slathers of oily orange resting beside cerulean blue. In my sleep, my brush is masterful, my palette true, I paint with exquisite perfection the tropical  hues, the radiant mix only the Creator could compose.

Rubbing my eyes, I wander into the kitchen to the smell of fragrant coffee. I’m itching to begin, my dream a hopeful omen for this stunning, sultry day.

Tropical 2

I lay out my paint supplies on the lanai and respectfully fasten my 6×8 to the easel.  Deeply inspired by the sun-lit scene before me, I take a breath and begin.

I fail… in slow motion. As the distant waters purple and the sand-warmed shallows turn to green, as the sun-kissed patio below me dazzles with cadmium, ochre, and magenta, my brush-stokes pile with clumsy, muddied confusion.

The Peril Of Perfection

In moments like these I’m tempted to quit, to believe the goal of art, of life, of existence, is to be extraordinary, to surpass all previous attempts. I compare my worst with another’s fine-tuned best, I contrast my flawed attempts with photo-shopped perfection, and lose courage.

Perhaps you do too.

Has our battered self-image ever been so ruthlessly under review? Have we always been required to justify our existence, to prove our value before the stone-eyed gaze of a virtual crowd?  Public humiliation follows one viral posting, personal rejection from one withheld “like”. Social media provides an ongoing beauty pageant, a hall of fame or shame, depending on the whim of your followers.

Yet, the struggle with perfectionism grows from ancient roots. Our anguish and often anger at a world we cannot mend, the burden of our simultaneously high and humble calling, is not new. To be human is to bear astounding potential within a leaky vessel, to find ourselves able to soar near the sun the same moment our wings begin to melt.

We Participate In Another’s Perfection

The same God who designed Hawaii also created me. I sense him at my shoulder, pleased when I notice the light in the shadows, the way the waves tease the shore, but whispering, “well done,” when I mix on my palate his compassion and kindness for the people I’d rather ignore.

Do you know this? As a human being you are designed not for perfection, but for participation in a perfection you can’t achieve on your own.

His perfect love to redeem every hate-filled act.

His perfect truth to counter every person-demeaning lie.

His perfect beauty to remind you, no matter how badly your life has been muddied, the divine Artist has not finished his masterpiece yet.

 

Do you struggle with perfectionism? 

 

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12 thoughts on “The Peril of Perfection

  1. Pingback: » The Peril of Perfection

  2. Gloria Davidson

    Janet, Have you ever read something and then slowly re-read each line if it were holding something special it wished to hand you? That was me this morning with your pondering’s on perfectionism. And the answer to your question is “yes…” I needed to read this today. Thank you. This is brilliantly written and exquisite in transition, such that my heart rested in it’s reading and in the end felt deeply fed… Love to always my friend… gloria

    Reply
  3. Jeff Reed

    Janet: this was such a timely gift for me today. In my imagination this morning I conjured up the picture of someone ridiculing my latest work that I have recently been sharing, and I was surprised by the power of the visceral response in my gut: such strong waves of fear and self-doubt. And then I was given the gift of your truth reminder! I am grateful.

    Reply
    1. Janet Hanson Post author

      Jeff, there is so much risk in sharing art–giving away pieces of our souls. I so resonate with what you said (here I posted both my writing and a piece of a painting I am unhappy with). But what is life without risk? What value is there in hoarding ourselves and refusing to participate in God’s perfection?
      Your poetry is a gift–keep sharing!

      Reply
  4. Ruth

    Janet – I too had to reread a line as it hit me. “The same God who designed Hawaii also created me. I sense him at my shoulder, pleased when I notice the light in the shadows, the way the waves tease the shore, but whispering, “well done,” when I mix on my palate his compassion and kindness for the people I’d rather ignore.” I was thinking about this very thing this morning. Have I been so busy doing what I want, for me, for recognition and accolades that I have forgotten those “I’d rather ignore” who really need what I might have to give? His compassion and kindness? His love and goodness?

    Reply
    1. Janet Hanson Post author

      Ruth, I wondered if anyone caught that! Well done! 🙂 As I painted, other guests gossiped in the pool, or on the lawns below. Were they intrusions on the beautiful scene or God’s main attraction?

      Reply
  5. Chris Lawson

    ” As a human being, you are designed not for perfection, but for participating in a perfection you can’t achieve on your own” and “…the divine Artist has not finished his masterpiece yet.” Bravo, Janet! Fairly simple words yet again put together is such a beautiful way so as to get me thinking in a new direction. I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I do enjoy feeling I’ve done something well; which now has me thinking, “Do I only attempt something that I think I can do well?” Hmmmm….

    Reply
  6. Melanie

    Janet,
    This rings true for me , both in the ‘creative’ sense and in the spiritual sense. I often, far too often , find myself comparing my ‘average, at best’ photos to those of the ‘greats’—-but is that really the point? I think the ‘point’ is to see as God must have wanted us to see– with awe and with humility at the intricacy of Creation. I will never be the best at anything, but the journey is far more important to me than that, in trying to pursue my art, but even more importantly, in living the rest of my life in hope and in wonder of the greatness of God.

    Thanks for the reminder !

    Reply

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