Friday, March 19, 2010


Today Robert Genn is talking about perfectionism and how it holds us back.  Substitute your particular art for his 'painter'.  Here is an exerpt:
... I'm also seeing a kind of obsessive perfectionism that really holds some artists back. Let me explain.

Social psychologists and forum leaders identify types of human machinations they often call "rackets." Apparently we all run them. Rackets are blind spots, self-fulfilling games or internalized stories we keep repeating to avoid certain outcomes. For example, a painter may demand such high standards of himself that work never leaves the studio. Work is never quite finished. "Never quite good enough" is his racket.
Some artists need to look at the disabling that comes with over-perfectionism. They need to find out where it came from and what can be done about it.
OK, I have to interrupt here as an old teacher and mentor of quiltmakers.  This was so rampant with the women (as I think I only had a handful of men ever appear in my classes) that it crippled the class on many occasions.  They simply couldn't understand that there wasn't a 'right' and 'wrong' and were deathly afraid of making mistakes.  My talks starting the class would emphesize this more than any other point.  I would tell them that if they didn't know which way to go, to trust their intuition but rather than that they would transfer their lack of trust to me because I wouldn't make their decisions for them!

You've all known these people-  the ones afraid to cut into the fabric, the ones who won't work without a template, the ones who put in mini lifetimes at their machines perfecting their free motion embroidery because THAT demands perfection!

Perfectionism is the opposite of audacity. It is the over-runner of intuition and the neutralizer of confidence. It is the mean little voice that says, "Noodling will get this thing right." More overworked passages are wrought by perfectionism than this world dreams of. 
The longer the racket persists, the more difficult it is to remove... An overly demanding, displeased parent, sibling or spouse, even from the distant past, is a common source. Guilt, fear and common garden-variety stubbornness play their part. These conditions and their sources need to be understood, analyzed and forgiven. While counselling may be necessary, vigorous introspection is often a good course.
I will always remember the essence of one woman (her face and name and even the place is long forgotten) but she showed up at a clothing workshop with a suitcase full of brand new fabrics and couldn't wait to proudly display it all.  She arranged it in fans around her table-  a full quilt shop full of turquoise and purple batiks all in the exact same value range.  (My assignment was to bring one large feature print and as many old small scraps as they could find to accompany it and also share.)  I was appropriately complementary about her lovely choices but told her to pick out one and then go around the room and borrow SCRAPS to work with it and not to dare come back with more purple or turquoise.  (I promise I said it nicely, plus I had also brought in a packing box full of scraps to work with.)  She rooted around and came back to her table empty handed-  she could not get beyond the 'perfectionism' of her first fabric choices so she proceeded with using them.

The other jackets and vests were wild and silly and joyful and audacious, hers was, well, very 'safe' and uninteresting.  I persisted trying to get her to move just one value away, just a bit darker here or lighter there but she could not do it.  At lunch she disappeared and returned with an additional pile of purple and turquoise batiks from the vendors.

Perfectionism often hits artists in mid life. When you are a kid, you don't know your own limitations and you just do it. A few failures or discouragements later and you start to lose your moxie. Perfectionism becomes chronic. Dedicated head vacuuming is in order. Re-accessing your child may be necessary. At the base of all of this is independent character-development and rugged self-control.
So, dear lady, I hope you have proudly worn your one-value vest all these years, but more than that I hope you have seen the other women in theirs getting complements and laughs and admiration because they stepped up and realized this is not:

This is supposed to be fun, it is supposed to be self expression and that means opening up the locked up deep inside chambers of your heart and taking chances and doing a bit more than you think you ever could.  And that is how you achieve 'perfection'. 

And an UPDATE:
I stopped by my local quilt shop yesterday, the place where I bought my dreaded fancy schmancy Bernina, and they asked me how much I love it. I told 'em. I told them I do not love it. I cannot use the BSR, that it jams and jumps and my little red light flashes off and on, I run it with the footpedal both attached and detached and still cannot get it working. I have been quilting the Swamp with the feed dogs down and just wrestling it manually. She was taken aback that I don't love it, so asked me if I did this or that, and I whined some more so she sat me down with a sample and went over the whole set-up again. I did learn a few things I didn't know and aren't in the book, she was great, walked me through both modes, sat me at the machine and made me do it and it worked beautifully. I left the shop with new enthusiasm and came right over and tried out my machine with my new-found confidence.

The threads jammed, the needle broke, the light wouldn't go on. I breathed deeply and tried again. I rewound the bobbin, I re-threaded the machine, and got blobs of thread on the back, skipped stitches, a bloody mess. I tried the third time, same result. I removed the BSR, set up the machine to do regular old quilting and proceeded with a bit better result. I am gonna simply seal up the little BSR box and set it in a bottom drawer because I hate it. I am frustrated, and know I am not as dumb as it's making me look.
(knitted brain with zipper Corpus Callosum by Karen Norberg from the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art)
 Besides, I really hate quilting by machine anyway. Well, I hate doing it by hand too. I am now officially a COLLAGIST, bring on the glue.


PeggyB said...

Sandy, reading your BSR saga...I think yours needs a new spring. Take it over to your guru and have her check it. It really is pretty smooth, but some of them need a newly designed (stronger) spring. And, I don't know what machine you have, but some of them (bsr modules) need updates as well.

Poor swamp thing.....

jpsam said...

It's shocking that quilt shop Bernina sellers are so brainwashed (there can't be any amiss with the machine!). There really are problems with the BSR and it really does occasionally need a software update. I worked for awhile at my LQS -- a big Bernina dealer. I had problems. I brought it in. It worked--sorta--but not the way it should. I should bring mine in again but I gave up long ago and just free-motion stitch without the BSR.

It's sad because I am a true Bernina believer...not sure why