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In all of my art classes, and virtually anywhere I encounter new artists, the number one obstacle I see holding them back is a "fear of imperfection." So I'd like to submit this question to any/all established artists, what tips/advice do you have for "new artists" to overcome their fears of imperfection (which are, afterall, inevitable for any student)?

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    This question seems to be drawing a lot of personal experience answers - largely because it seems to be somewhat opinion based. Please remember to focus answers on objective solutions and explain why they work. Personal experience is great but without support, there's no reason to think your experience is common to other people. – Catija Apr 26 '17 at 15:37
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There's a famous story about a ceramics professor who separated his class into two groups of students. The students in Group A were graded solely on a single pot they presented at the end of the semester, whereas the students in Group B were graded on how many pots they produced during the semester: quality vs. quantity.

During the course of the semester, the Group A students were agonizing over perfecting the minutest details of their pot, while Group B was furiously churning out pots left and right.

At the end, the professor examined everyone's pots, and Group B had higher quality work - even though they were only being graded on quantity! The Group A students, though they had been trying to achieve high quality, simply did not have the same amount of experience.

The moral of the story is, practice makes perfect.

The solution to your "artist's block" is not unlike writer's block. You can find prompts and assignments to force yourself to do something until inspiration strikes again. Most of all, you must accept that your early drafts will suck, and make them anyways.

I've found it very inspirational looking at re-makes or progression pictures from artists, to see how their technique and style have evolved over the years. To me, it underscores that making art is a learned skill, not some innate talent that you either have or don't have. Sadly too many people believe this, and simply give up on art because their skills are still grade school level and they haven't grown them since. But if you put in the work you will get better and better.

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    I viewed a video recently of a study similar to that of this answer. It referenced two groups. One was told that a failure was going to result in a penalty, but giving up was an acceptable option. One was told there was no penalty for failure. The first group reached acceptable levels far less often than the second and had an increased surrender rate. Generally, it is considered acceptable to make errors, as one should learn and progress appropriately. – fred_dot_u Apr 12 '17 at 0:35
  • @fred_dot_u That sounds really interesting! Do you have a link to the video or the study? – user812786 Apr 12 '17 at 11:49
  • I've been able to narrow the source to Derek Muller of Veritasium, 2Veritasium and Sciencium YouTube fame. I cannot locate the video and suspect it was one of his transitory/expiring productions. Many people fear failure, others thrive on finding solutions, even if it's not the first result of the effort. – fred_dot_u Apr 12 '17 at 18:12
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I will re-state that practice makes perfect. How do you 'churn out drawings' as quickly as possible? You stop revising/editing your work. My grandmother was an art teacher and she told me that for the most part, I should avoid using an eraser if using a pencil or to just use a pen. Gain confidence in yourself by removing the possibility of 'mistakes'. If you can't erase a mark it's meant to be there, if it really isn't meant to be there draw it again. Instead of focusing on a 'mistake' or making part of a drawing 'just right' you keep on drawing until you finish. Then if you want you can re-draw the piece again to improve it. Nothing will happen if you don't start drawing or if you keep erasing 'mistakes' so don't use an eraser, just draw.

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Ok, it's been three days so I will propose a solution that I learned many years ago. I was taking art classes and quickly developed a friendship with some of the other students in the class. This friendship resulted in after class "informal study groups" where we would just get together and work on our individual art etc...

Sometimes, just being around other artists can be a bit intimidating (i.e. eyes peering over your shoulder), so I had become a little apprehensive and froze in front of my blank canvas. It didn't take long for my inaction to catch the attention of one of my classmates.

He asked me what was the hold up? and I told him I had "artist block".

At that point, he put his tools down and told me to come over to his work. He told me to look at it and get a feeling from it (where is it going? What ideas does it inspire in your mind? etc... ), because sometimes it's easier to critique someone else's work, than to be detached and objective about your own.

Then he said: "if you don't already have something specific in mind, would you mind if I went over to your canvas and just put down a few marks?"

I was shocked! And as I stood there dumbfounded, he motioned to his work and said, "feel free to implement any ideas you might have for my piece, while I take a crack at yours. Then when you get back to your work, you can just continue where I left off, and I will do the same when I get back to my own."

Then I asked: "But aren't you worried that I might ruin it?"

And he said, "How could you possibly ruin it? The canvas was completely blank when I started. Anyway, feel free to 'ruin' it as much as you think you are able. Consider it a challenge. You 'ruin' it, so that I can get some practice 'fixing' it. What could be more inspiring than that?"

After that experience, I never had a fear of imperfection again.

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  • This helped you but I fear that it will not help most people. – Willeke Feb 21 '17 at 22:20
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    It helped you. Afterall, before I posted this comment, no one had attempted an answer. But as soon as I wrote something/anything, suddenly people were able to find their words. You see, it's that blank sheet, that scares the hell out of most people. Matisse talked about this in "Notes of a painter." And Kandinski also wrote about the importance of that first stroke. – Vasqi Feb 22 '17 at 2:36
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The fear of imperfection when drawing is the curse of the left hemisphere of your brain interfering with the creativity inspired by the right-side of your brain activity.

Silencing that problematic inner monologue requires practice, patience and often some tuition and guidance.

My own art teacher, Kimbra Taylor, focuses very much on using mindfulness as a tool to realise your full potential as an artist and avoid unhelpful negative self-talk - see the link to her blog for more information on the left / right side of the brain issue.

Hope this helps.

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Once, in a life drawing session, our instructor had us play musical easels (sort of) We each worked on a sketch for 5-10 minutes and then moved to the easel to the left for another 5-10 minutes and again until we had each worked on all seven sketches (class of 7). It can relax a person to already have work on paper when they start, and it will help to see what the previous artist saw and how they chose to depict it. While some students disliked the teacher drawing on their sketches, I learned a lot from it and also realized that creating art is NOT about the finished product but the process. Without the process, there cannot be a great work of art.

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This is the interesting part about painting for me. The trick for me is to simply paint and enjoy the process. There are no wrong actions. Everything becomes part of the painting and adds to the underpainting. It's part of the history of the piece. As I paint abstractly and intuitively I have the luxury, if you will, at being able to turn the work upside down and starting again or continuing. I sit on my thinking chair a lot, take photos, study the work until it starts speaking to me. It starts to give me the confidence to move forward. Top recommendation is to not worry, you can always paint over it. Hope this helps.

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    Welcome! Neither this question nor this site are strictly about painting, particularly not abstract painting where there is no "wrong". Unfortunately, with many crafts, the work is a one-way process. Could you please expand your answer so that it's more objective and less "stop caring about it"? I think as is this is sort of a non-answer. The OP is clearly worried and telling someone to just stop worrying isn't particularly constructive. – Catija Apr 26 '17 at 15:39

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