In my intuitive painting classes the first thing that I tell people is that there are no mistakes when you are painting. Everything that shows up on the paper is something that needs to be there.
This idea that you really can’t do anything wrong is a concept that most people agree with in theory. But when it comes time to practice it, and a perceived mistake appears, almost everyone acts like they have been hit on the head or maybe developed a mysterious case of spontaneous amnesia.
But what is a mistake, really? It reminds me of the way that gardeners think about weeds. A weed is still a plant. It’s a green and growing thing with roots and leaves and photosynthesis.
But what makes it a weed is that the gardener doesn’t want it. The gardener has an opinion about it. The gardener thinks that this particular growing thing is bad or is a problem somehow. So it becomes classified as a weed and is attacked with pesticides or chopped off and thrown into the compost heap.
That’s what happens when people are painting. They have opinions about what is spontaneously bursting forth in their painting. They start to have preferences. And they start classifying things. Putting them in categories.
There’s the good category and the bad category. There’s the things I like and the things I don’t. There’s the things that belong and the things that just shouldn’t be there.
Which leads to tremendous anxiety.
When you have the world divided up into these two different groupings you have to be constantly assessing. And wondering. And trying to figure out if something is valuable or worthless, right or wrong. It keeps you in a hyper vigilant state of mind because you are continually on the look out for the intruder. You have to be prepared at a moments notice to whip out the round-up and the weed whacker.
And that is really, really exhausting.
The whole idea of viewing your painting process as if you couldn’t make a mistake is actually a way to be creative with a lot less suffering involved. But when I encourage someone to consider letting go of trying to fix that drip that has just shown up in their painting they often react to me as if I’m trying to steal something precious from them.
They are convinced that their happiness lies in being able to make things right again, ignoring the fact that standing there glaring at their painting and being caught up in a frenzy of obsessive hatred over a yellow dot that is now marring their perfect blue landscape is what is actually making them miserable.
Most people will get very preoccupied with the tiniest mess or perceived screw up. My students will often tell me that once a smudge appears on the paper or the mouth they just painted is even the littlest bit crooked that they literally CAN’T move on to the next thing. They become completely mesmerized with this damage, this error, this lack of perfection. They become fixated and consumed.
And once they become frozen in this way they are no longer capable of being creative. The creative flow just stops.
The bottom line is that believing in mistakes is just not very useful. And because it IS a belief it can kind of become like a religion.
According to The Church Of Mistakes it is possible to do something wrong and mess it up to the point where you may as well just give up and forget about the whole thing.
One thing that I know for sure is that the doctrine associated with The Church of Mistakes is not a belief system that I want to ascribe to. I am a very pragmatic girl. I am a big fan of doing what works. And when I am doing something creative, what works is to continue to create.
The best way to deal with a mistake is not to spend your precious time and life energy beating your self into a bloody pulp (psychologically speaking) so that you are too bruised and battered to move on to what could happen next.
You can’t fix a mistake. You can’t go back in time and make something better. What’s done is done and all you can do is to continue on with the next brush stroke.
We often approach painting and the creative process thinking that we are in control. We have a fantasy that we are going to create a perfect little world here on this paper in front of us. And often that fantasy of perfection and mastery is not even very conscious until the dreaded mistake happens.
If a smear or splotch makes an appearance in your hoped for masterpiece, it’s always a useful practice to stand back a bit and just give yourself some space to be upset.
It’s also a time where you can try and be tender with that part of you that SO wants to have things turn out in just the right way. Give that part of you a hug. Tell him or her that no matter what, you are being creative and that is all that truly matters.
Remind yourself that seeing your creative process as a place where mistakes are just not possible is actually an opening into a place of incredible creative freedom.
And to try and remember that the drip is never the problem. A drip is just a drip. What gets you in trouble…. ALWAYS…. is what happens inside of your wacky judging mind!