Creating Perfection

I am a perfectionist. Anyone who knows me even the slightest iota can probably tell you this. I have an almost compulsive urge to be exacting and precise in everything I do. My desk is arranged at 90 degree angles, I alphabetize my movies, and have been known to organize my closet by color according to spectral order. I haven't seen a therapist, but I know that there are traits in me that point to OCD, and if not that then a strong case of perfectionism. I've been told that our strongest strengths can become weaknesses when they become overblown. My experience would corroborate that statement. I need for everything to be perfect.

I have gotten myself into serious trouble as a result of such perfectionism. There have been things I could not complete in the course of my job because I refused to accept it was good enough. There have been stories I could not finish writing because I was so bogged down in the details of sentence structure and diction. In fact, my favorite paintings have all taken years to complete. Seriously. Years. I get out my finest brushes and my liquin and laboriously paint until the trace of every brush stroke is all but erased. I love the smooth blending of one color into another. I love the seamless progression of light into shadow. I love the smoothness of a three-dimensional object as it slyly leans off of a canvas. The feeling of success in achieving what I want in my paintings is addictive. Conversely, the sense that I somehow underachieved my own expectations is defeating. This is the internal chain that keeps me glued to my easel for hours without eating, fully engrossed in refining paint into perfection. It is also the lock on the door of my mind, preventing me from opening up, preventing me from trying something I'm not already sure I can achieve. It's a niggling fear and an inspiration- that I COULD do something amazing given enough time, but this time I might not. Today I don't FEEL inspired. Today I am average. Today is the day the ruse is up an everyone will know that I am not, in fact, incredible. I merely aspire to be.

I have gotten myself into trouble with this a lot. I'm harder on myself than most others, and I frequently put my fears into the mouths of those I respect. I see others through perfected glasses and then measure myself unfairly against that. If something goes wrong I assume it's my fault and it has often been devastating to my very footing in life. This has affected my career choices and probably hindered my relationships. What could be more discouraging to someone who is afraid they aren't good enough than a frustrated person telling them they've gone too far, that they aren't living up to the standard, that they're under-performing? Nothing, I tell you. Nothing. Why do I do this? I'm still on the road to discovery, but I'm suspicious it has something to do with Jesus.

Humans are created in the image of God- a beautifully perfect image without any semblance of stain. Nevertheless, we as humankind are the hot dog in the sand, the table cloth with the coffee ring, the painting that the cat walked through. We are fallen beings. Sin surrounds us on every side and it is also at work within us as our flesh wars with our spirit and our wills aspire to deification. I will be the first to admit my brokenness, my imperfection, my utter lack. I need a savior as much as food, water, and sun. Without my guiding light I am lost. Jesus is my beacon, my anchor, the hand that picks me up when I fall. He is patient and kind and true and He carries me when I cannot stand (and if we're being honest, that's incredibly often).

Ok. Good story. Great news, I'm not perfect and Jesus is, but He totally understands and is cool with my messed up nature. Lesson learned. End of story. Golf clap.




Not quite.


C.S. Lewis once said that God is very easy to please but very hard to satisfy. It's true. The moment we find growth and feel we have overcome THE obstacle, we look up and see another. I'm starting to understand this more and more. God really does celebrate our victories. He does give us a couple mountain top moments, but the moment we finish our trail mix, He sets us back on the path. I’m starting to get it. We never arrive. We never finish. It is the entire LIFE that is the journey. We will NOT achieve perfection in this life. In fact, we will never ACHIEVE it at all. Perfection is conferred onto us under the blood of the perfect savior.

So why the struggle? Why does God goad us forward, and push us to be better? Why does He demand of us to be perfect? Simply. For He is perfect. Every step we take of growth brings us that much closer to Him. Our proximity to God requires the death of sin and the growth of character. And one day, freed of our fleshly desires and carnal nature we will be with Him- for to be absent from this body is to be present with God. One day we will see and know fully even as we are fully known. Wow.

To summarize, God walks with us through our faults, slowly dusting away our imperfections so that we can continuously grow in our understanding of Him and more fully grow in our understanding of His love for us. God spurs us to grow so that we can be near him. Let me clarify- He doesn’t do this because He needs us and He certainly doesn’t do it to create new deities, peers, or rivals. Trust me, Satan tried that and his punishment is coming. We are not attaining to divinity as some world views may aspire. We are not becoming gods. Rather, we are drawing nearer to the only God, a process which requires we admit our smallness and look to the only living savior. By His grace alone can a sinful thing even stand before Him, for we are all unworthy. “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

Again, why the struggle with perfectionism?

If perfection is a godly characteristic, then it must follow perfectionism is Holy, right?

No. It really doesn’t.

I find it likely that perfectionism is the result of an epic battle between pride and insecurity. I can attest. I want so badly to be like Jesus, but I want to do it alone. I want desperately to be a master painter, but I want to do it naturally- based on talent alone. I wish it was in me. I wish I was just constructed perfect and left that way. I want to exude greatness without trying. I want to be amazing without the struggle. After all, aren’t there already a scad of others far younger who have already surpassed the maximum of our potential? Beware the downfall of comparison. This is all sin and striving. This is my spirit warring against my flesh, my imagination warring against my limited hands. I resent the imperfection yet despise the the process of purification. Why can’t I just be what I want to be? Why can’t my fingers create what my mind envisions?


How I hate practice.

How I hate criticism.


There is this little trigger that goes off in my mind every time I get feedback (Oh how I pray it will fade). When a certain flaw is pointed out to me, be it character or artistic or otherwise, my initial thought is usually one of 2 things:


  1. I already know; stop attacking me

  2. WHAT? I disagree. How dare you.


I am ashamed to admit it, but I might as well.

Here’s the funny thing about perfection. I am motivated to improve and to be better and to grow by this internal desire to be more like my Lord. Daily I walk with Him and He whispers to me. He leads me onward and we have an incredible friendship. Yet, the moment another party is introduced, my ever increasing knowledge of my own failings comes to the forefront and I become like a different creature. It’s alright for me to grow when it’s just me and God. Maybe it’s because I know He’ll never hurt me and that He knows my limits. Oh but others- they are the wild card. Other people can take me off my happy path of obliviousness. People upset the order of things.

But you know, it might not always be a bad thing. Certainly those who love me can help me along. Those who love me can see into my blind spots and point out things I might never have noticed. People can also be used as instruments of God, to push and to prod each other onward toward godliness. I have generally found that anyone who would point out a flaw in me usually thinks they ARE sent directly from heaven. And often they come without the grace, without the patience, without the fullest understanding of my inner thoughts and struggles. They don’t know my goals, my thoughts, or the many times I failed attempting to fix the very thing they’ve brought before me. But am I any different?


Pride and Insecurity. Pride and Insecurity. Pride and Insecurity.




Improvement requires practice. I must keep going. I have to push myself to brave the blank paper and to try. I have to be OK with a seemingly unending series of oddly shaped sketches. It’s from the mistakes that I learn. It’s in looking back through the long march of time where the progress finally emerges. In the same way, I must also accept that holistic transformation involves collaboration. We are people made for community and I am not an Island. Critique doesn’t necessarily equate to disapproval. The presence of a flaw doesn’t instantly mean rejection- or am I not covered in the blood? I cannot fear that those around me will serve me with the just punishment of death that Christ’s intercession has already stayed.

Oh how we creatives love the word "I". We love standing out in some unique way and being recognized for our difficult achievements. We write our names on our creations so as to claim them and distinguish ourselves. Yet even in so doing we are merely mimicking, for in the same way God has put His image upon us. He has marked us as His own. I am His. People may come and make comments and tell Him things He already knows. People may throw dirt in His paint, but I am still His. I am not creating myself, for I am not my own. As every painting requires differing amounts of time to create, so does every lifespan vary. I may not always enjoy God’s variation of brush strokes, some gentle and some rough. I may HATE that the things I love most get erased or covered over, but I must allow the master to paint. I must allow the potter to reshape me. He’s making me into perfection. Who am I to protest?


Paint on, my master, My Lord.

With the Power to create

It happens every time I sit down to make a new piece of art. I have a choice. What sort of an artist am I going to be? Usually, this situation finds me browsing through a series of photographs I have taken here and there as I look for the right piece of inspiration. Perhaps I really want to sketch a person. Perhaps I am looking for just the right flower. Sometimes, if I'm being honest, I'm looking for something that isn't too difficult to recreate. I have to think about the medium I'm using and whether or not I have the technical ability to make what I can picture in my mind. Some things are stunning, but really ought to remain art in photo form. Other things are beautiful but wouldn't make sense as a painting. In these cases I often modify the image in my interpretation. Many potential subjects are not quite yet in my skill range. For example, one might wonder why I don't draw my beloved cat. Aside from the fact that I do intend to marry one day, I never do depictions of cats justice. Basically, I just don't draw fur all that well. Of course that is a skill I intend to learn, and eventually showcase. 

I have been working off of a theme lately, my 2017 Christmas series. It's been an adventure and a challenge, and I would be lying if I said I hadn't already learned a lot. In the process of trying to find subjects to paint and draw, I have looked through a lot of imagery. I had to decide if I was going to do the cliche snow-covered house on a mountain side, if I was going to delve into Native American themes, if I was going to stick with New Mexican images, if I was to paint only nature. On and on it goes. I began with a random image, a snow covered bridge over a frozen lake. I then discovered that I had personal images that were more special than this. I found photos of old leaves and flowers that I had captured around my own yard and neighborhood. From there I discovered that these dead items actually fascinated me far more than the snowy lake had. I began to decide that this year's Christmas Series would focus more on the up close items. I loved the character of that dead leaf or flower that was so shriveled and brown, yet retained so much beauty, particularly crested with snow.

My next round of decision-making as I begin a piece involves medium. Initially, I thought that I would make mostly acrylic pieces as they are less expensive to produce and I could sell them at better prices. But then I remembered that I hate acrylics and they aren't too fond of me either. They dry too fast for my favorite techniques and the colors I have just don't glow like my oils. It is better for me to choose a medium I love even if it requires more time and investment. I know I can do a better job with it and there are notably fewer incidents of dramatic grunts and thrown brushes. This means that as my series progresses, you likely won't see another acrylic. 

Here is what I have decided so far- do what I CAN do. Do something that fascinates me. Do what is worth doing. Of course, a different artist would look at the same images and go an entirely different direction, for we are none of us the same. That is ok. In fact, that is good. 

Once I set up my supplies, I sit there staring at something blank. It is pure, raw potential. That paper, that canvas could become almost anything. I could recreate an image, I could draw from pure imagination. I could tell a story of violence and destruction or I could paint a cartoon butterfly. I hold a lot of power over a blank canvas and I can create anything. With the power to create, the question I must confront it this: what kind of an artist am I going to be? This is a philosophical question, far more than it is a technical query. Yes, if I want to be a realist, I can learn a style. I can sketch or labor over my work. I can work solely in pastels. I can do anything. In the same way that I could learn and parrot a poem from a language I do not know, I could practice and parrot a technical style. But after I do that- what am I going to CREATE? The marks are in my hand and the brush moves in obedience to the commands I give it. The ethical ramifications of what I do in the studio do not fall on my brush or my style. They are on me. 

I believe that the things we create are always made slightly in our own image. A reader knows that nothing is more revealing about an author's life than the characters they make and the philosophies those characters espouse. Creation is the coded journal of the creator. From the creation an observer can see the depths of who the creator is. Man is made in the image of God and when God was finished creating us, He said that we were good. As a reflection of God, it is so apparent that the one who made us must also have a great deal of Good- perhaps even be the embodiment of it. In a lesser, fuzzier way, the things that artists create are a reflection of them. 

I've never been attracted to the destructive. I despise forms of communication which are designed for no other purpose but to shock and introduce discomfort. Give me most of the current best selling, Oprah Book Club novels, and I'd probably just turn them into a Pinterest craft project. Those who are familiar with Modern Art, probably more specifically Post-modern Art, will acknowledge that there is some truly disturbing "art" out there. How is collecting your fingernail clippings, your tampons, and your haircuts from the past 2 years artistic? How is that a master piece worthy of an upper degree? Why should I be forced to applaud that when I go to the gallery? What are you trying to SAY with an installation like that? Are you saying that life goes on and we leave behind a lot of wasted material? I'm sorry, but is that supposed to be profound? (yes, this was an actual Master's Degree project I saw)

I think sometimes we go into the realm of art and we see bizarre, disturbing, or potentially even evil things and we feel this guilty tug, as though to dislike something is to dislike art herself. If it's bizarre it's deep and if it's ugly it's good. After all, the badly-written blurb under the installation said so. The result of this silent pressure is that everyone walks past horrific things and applauds those who do them because we somehow admire that they said something "difficult", or they "started a conversation", or we just don't want to look like we don't get it. Come on! Can we please take off the mask? Spades are spades and some art is really bad. I don't mean bad technically. I don't mean bad in execution. I mean bad philosophically. 

I once walked into a gallery for an hour of peace and inspiration. On the whole I love galleries. They are these magical places where the spaces are orderly and clean. The lights are positioned just right, and you never know what sort of brilliant creation might be around the next corner. It is the infinite thrill of eternity. The created have created. Let's see what they can do! But this time, as I went around that thrilling corner, my heart did in fact leap- then my stomach dropped. Mounted before me under glittering lights was a giant painting, gaping wide a message neither peaceful or inspiring. There it was- female genitalia. From ceiling to floor, it was designed to be seen from space. I started. I blushed, I actually covered my eyes. But then I peeked, and the peek grew to a stare. My mouth dropped wide and I realized that this image was far more that an anatomical rendition. It was- diseased. I'm not even sure what all was wrong with it, but it was awful. I moved past the giant disturbing image once I recovered my senses and continued through the rest of the gallery. upon exiting the main room, I discovered that the entry way presented me with 4 more similar images. There were crazy colors and mental additions that I am far too embarrassed to describe. Let's not even talk about their titles! These paintings were large and they obviously took quite a lot of time and effort to create. In fact, I could tell that the painter had some real skill. But... why this? I next realized that the artist was standing there, greeting patrons of the gallery. She was fabulously dressed and in a terrific mood. Art lovers had crawled out of the wood work to praise her for this achievement and there was no shortage of accolades. She was describing to the adoring public how these images were empowering to women and that they helped to break down negative female stereotypes or some such nonsense. People lapped it up with a spoon. But here's the deal. Was she speaking for all women? No! I was horrified by the things that I saw. Was she somehow helping to empower me? No again. I wanted to slap her and I didn't have the power to act on that. Did she manage to make female kind somehow look better as a result of her creative depiction of certain aspects of us? No. She created a very intimidating and frightening image, something so terrible that its only imaginable utility might be for a campaign on the terrors of STD's. 

I felt dishonored. I felt exploited. I felt as though someone had taken something very sacred, destroyed it, and forced it upon the eyes of an unsuspecting public. Well that's exactly what had happened. Can you charge someone for sexually harassing you with art? Not in today's climate. No. We are required to accept and approve of whatever people make regardless of whether or not there is any virtue in it. I feel like there is this pressure on me, especially as a woman, to support my fellow ladies and help them achieve their feminist goals, regardless of the means they use to say something. I am 100% for equality and opportunities. I would love for the world to better utilize the potential of women, to stop abuse, and to work in harmony. I am 100% against depraved pornographic images. 

This woman had talent and she had a medium and she had a choice. She chose to make something dishonoring. You see, what we say and do matters, and how we say and do it matters just as much. We can't be striving for some ideological end with no regard for the means. The means must always justify themselves. How we do something matters! 

I have no idea who might be reading this and I don't want to be misunderstood. I would never advocate a world where people have their freedom of speech taken away or where women are relegated to becoming servile and weak. I would never dare to stand in the way of justice or anything else that is good. Nevertheless, I must be honest. Not all things hold goodness, and that includes art. I know and serve a wonderful God. He is my creator, Lord, and King. He calls me His own and because of the blood of Jesus I am an heir to His Kingdom. I know authority and I know empowerment and I know a great deal about dignity. 

When I sit down to create, I have a choice. What am I going to say in my art?

Am I going to make creations in my image only? Am I going to paint things that reflect nothing more than my sinful nature and depraved flesh? Am I going to denigrate all the wonderful things that God has made so that I can make a cheap statement destined to fail the test of time? Am I going to shock the world because I need the attention or I enjoy making people suffer? Am I going to seer the collective consciences of my society so that sin no longer appears as evil?


Will I make something that honors a great and marvelous God? Will I choose virtue? Am I going to depict the world in a way that is consistent with reality, that is consistent with my belief that God sees and cares and knows? Am I going to show a world where broken things are redeemed, where there is beauty in ashes, where dead things come to life? Am I going to tell the story of grace and salvation and allow the world to derive hope from my work? I desperately hope so.

With the power to create we have a choice. What will it be?


New things are hard. In fact, starting something you've never done before can be almost paralyzing. There is the obvious doubt of success and an inevitable insecurity about succeeding. But the scariness of beginnings goes a bit beyond that. 

When I was in school, I was pretty successful. I learned things as they came along. I was diligent to reading the books, showing up for class, and turning things in on time. I had this external motivator that kept me going, perhaps the desire to make my parents proud, perhaps the fear of failing out of school and life by default. I had this structured discipline all around me (High school in particular is very structured). One class comes after the next, one due date after another. There were expectations upon me to complete things, to learn, to get good grades, to be one time, and ultimately to graduate. I did all of it. 

Moving into the working world wasn't a terrible thing. In fact, a lot of those same expectations remained. Punctuality in arriving at work, the deadline of bills- all these things keep the average upstanding citizen going. There is, after all, nothing like the threat of an impending rent payment to motivate one to work well and to work hard

I have dreams. Big ones. I have goals and aspirations that many would consider "nice" and others unrealistic. Sure, I can pay my bills and be upstanding citizen. For me that is marginally easy. But starting a business? marketing my art work? This is a new level of achievement. It is not enough to merely survive and meet expectations. This is new. This is pioneer work. Having a business degree does not guarantee success. After all, putting one's emotions out on display for all to see is difficult. What if others don't see the world the way I do? What if my efforts are shoddy and poorly executed. I don't want to peddle refrigerator drawings at Picasso prices only to discover it after 3 months of sitting alone in an abandoned gallery. What would rejection feel like? Do I want to try? This is something to think about. 

I recently went to India. It was an amazing experience to say the least. I'm sure there could be and eventually will be blogs about that adventure, but today I want to mention one thing that India taught me. There is something not exactly carefree about travelling, but certainly daring. I spent 2 months in this country and I made it all the way without more than a handful of acquaintances. That's a little crazy, amirite? But oh so fun. I went to this crazy, bustling, busy place and I did stuff. I went places. I ate new things and enjoyed them. I tried my hand at speaking in a new language (and didn't do half bad). I got sick and I survived. I met new people and I survived. I kept up an amazingly busy schedule, and I survived.  I hailed taxi cabs in foreign languages and sailed across cities on the wrong side of the road not knowing if I was headed to the right place... And I survived. It was all amazing FUN. 

More than survival, I had tapped into a deeper part of me. This trip was far more than meeting expectations and doing things as I ought. I was able to explore and get outside of my inhibitions to see what I was actually capable of doing. I went to a gym and was weight trained by a former Mr. India Body builder. A travelling companion of mine sang karaoke in a shopping mall and ended up in 2 newspapers! I rafted in the Ganges, hiked the Himalayas, taught an art class in a talent school, watched a Bollywood movie being filmed, and met a famous singer in someone's house! It was this magical place where it just seemed like anything might happen. Who knew what I would do tomorrow, where I would go, what I would eat, or whom I would meet. 





So I started to ask myself a few things. Why is it that when I come home to America I have such a different life? Why would the same girl who sang the US national anthem (badly) in a mall in Delhi be nervous to start a new vocation or to put herself wholly into a new venture? 


This is the key, I think. When I was in India I had very few expectations. In fact, my largest expectation was that I would live bravely and try new things. And I did. When I was in school, my expectation was that I would work hard and succeed. And I did. 

Aha! The key.

I have dreams. Big dreams. I believe that it is time to reach for them. It is time to grasp them. It is time to blow past those dreams and to formulate newer, bigger ones. I expect that it will be difficult. I expect that there will be a lot of time and dedication required. I expect that not everyone will believe in me and that many will not understand what drives me and my passions. There are some, I suppose, who will actively dislike the things that I create, love, and pour myself into. Nevertheless, I expect to make it through all of that. One thing I can say for sure is that there is little point in being afraid of trying. There is little point in merely living into the expectations of others. I will live my life, and by the grace of God, it will be very good.

Today I am starting something new. 

Perhaps I will achieve my dreams. I surely intend to achieve them.