March 19, 2021 | Arts and Culture
when life imitates art
I used to find the phrase “practice makes perfect” reassuring. It made me feel like I could accomplish anything as long as I spent all my energy on it, never relenting or losing focus. Simple, right? Of course everyone would want perfection. But it turns out that there are many reasons to revel in imperfection, and my newfound passion for drawing fruits and vegetables is one of them.
Like many of my fellow classmates, I decided to take the fall semester off. Feeling like I was wandering aimlessly through life and becoming emotionally fatigued from so much self-reflection, my feet eventually led me to the basement of my house where all of our miscellaneous art supplies live. I needed to occupy myself.
My eyes wandered over to the colored sharpies and durable blank paper. I mindlessly grabbed a few pens and the stack of white sheets and trailed back upstairs where I plopped myself down at the kitchen table. I doodled a bit until I simply didn’t want to anymore. Yes, I wrote that correctly. Until I simply didn’t want to anymore. Something so straightforward, yet so important. For the first time in a long time, while drawing, I listened to myself. This felt different from my notebooks and planners, which show symptoms of doodle addiction. It was no longer a way to stay awake in classes where I felt inadequate, or a coping mechanism for when I couldn’t bring myself to complete an assignment out of fear. The art I created was no longer full of ulterior motives. It was an outlet for my true feelings, ones that I had recently become able to identify and name. Since that moment at my kitchen table, I have kept drawing and added painting and pencil sketches to my repertoire. I now proudly consider art a hobby of mine. Not to be dramatic and pull the whole “my semester abroad changed me” thing, but my semester off DID. I have opened my eyes to my artistic ability and creative capacity because of what my time off taught me about self-compassion, self-love, and happiness. I now practice art for me, not to perfect the process for anyone else.
I initially thought this was just another decision made for me by COVID-19, but I slowly realized that my body was the one that told me to take a break. Instead of the conventional conveyor belt of college, I took on another huge project—myself. It wasn’t until my perfectionistic tendencies brought me and my health to a breaking point that I realized they were an issue. People would compliment me on my organization and drive, but little did they know—my actions were less the result of my passion and values and more a necessity for a mistakeless life.
A recent series of little colored-pencil fruits and vegetables is a testament to my newfound freedom from the binding perfectionism that used to suffocate me. A favorite of mine is the beet, the first of the series. What was meant to be a radish was seen as a beet by all my friends, even after the Instagram story that said “rad!”. And so I gladly accepted the compliments I received on my “beet” without correcting people. I now see the drawing as a beet, too. I didn’t overthink why it didn’t look how I intended, or get mad that I’m not “artistic,” or could never go to RISD. While these criticisms all sound comical now, they are actual thoughts that have pierced my mind at least once, if not many times, before. I love my beet/radish even more because it is a reminder of the authentic joy I felt when shading the spherical-shaped veggie with its beautiful magenta color (I swear radishes can be magenta too) and thinking about how much I appreciate nature and its beauty. Nature, while beautiful, isn’t perfect either. If I can value nature’s gifts, then why shouldn’t I find beauty in my imperfections and celebrate them as well?
After the beet/radish fiasco, I’ve since drawn a clementine, a green bell pepper, and a lemon. There’s no profound reason for why I chose these particular pieces of produce other than what my heart felt at the time. My routine of intentionally doing something creative each day has begun to fade since the beginning of classes; I will admit that after being back at school for about two months now, I picked up the habit of doodling in class again. Not as a means of emotional avoidance, but because, well, online school is difficult. There were no due dates or rubrics when it came to my semester off, and it has been a considerable adjustment to get back into the repetitive routine of school, but this time I am tackling the semester differently than my first two. I am kinder to myself, more excited about the class material, and simply living more fruitfully!
I am currently in the process of updating the syllabus to my life. A lot of it is still blank, and some assignments say “TBD” on them, but everyday, I make an active choice to see this as a good thing. There are so many opportunities that I have opened my eyes to, and even more that I am excited to discover. Every time I shade in a new art piece, adding depth to the paper, I think about the depth that every stroke of the pencil also adds to my life. Every risk I take by adding color to my designs challenges my need for order and perfection. Each time I flip through my sketchbook, I am reminded of how proud of myself I am for creating something out of sheer pleasure and pushing through one of the most challenging but valuable semesters I’ve experienced.
I could sit here and ramble on about how my self-revelations and amazing soul-searching helped me uncover the true silver-lining in being forced to leave college after barely having a second semester of my first year. But I don’t believe that; I am here to talk about what quarantine-delusional me learned from nine months of relative isolation from the life I knew, or thought I knew. First, it was a matter of acknowledging that there was room for bettering myself, and that began with admitting that I was unhappy, confused, and simply not okay. Through deep emotional work, which is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, I learned how to take care of myself in the most basic ways. I learned that productivity does not equal self-worth. I learned that school is only a part of my life and not its entirety. And finally, I learned more about myself and how to be okay with what I found out.
To this day, I still grapple with past struggles as well as new ones. I am still trying to uncover the new me, the me that was simply dormant. But most importantly, I have suspended judgement. My internal battles make me stronger. For those of you who are reading this and relate at all, creativity is not a set character trait. Be whoever you know you truly are and don’t be afraid of presenting yourself to the world. Change often happens outside of our control, and while this is a challenge for those like me who struggle with a need for perfection, it could quite possibly be the exact thing you need to feel happy. Because of my practice of art, appreciation for the beauty in nature’s imperfections, and love for myself and others, the world has become more beautiful.