Be Smart About Art

Cursed by creative perfectionism? Learn when to pull the trigger

written by: Susan Mumford Jan. 12, 2014 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 8748 views

Cursed by creative perfectionism? Learn when to pull the trigger

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

I will never forget an analogy once given by a retail boss. At the time, I, like most creative beings, needed to let go of extreme perfectionism to get more done.

“Think of it like lining up a target. You could spend forever waiting for the perfect shot, and never get a thing. It’s imperative to line up as good a shot as you can, and pull the trigger.”

I have returned to that moment countless times, and am grateful for the lesson.

You can spend forever ‘perfecting’ a piece. But instead, you have to decide when it is done, and have the confidence you’ve made the right decision.

The same thinking applies to so many things:
Photographing art, designing catalogues and invitations, writing an artist bio, preparing a press release, composing a blog, making a video tour in the studio or gallery, perfectly lining up pictures on a wall… whew! The list is endless.

Just a few weeks ago, we sent out printed literature to out members that had an error on the front page. However, production was tight. Christmas loomed, and there simply wasn’t enough time for the designer to correct the error in time. The pamphlet was time sensitive and my options were black & white: it was sent with the mistake, or not at all.

Taking a deep breath, I embraced the “pull the trigger” mentality, and decided that on balance it was better to send the pamphlet than not. And guess what? No one but me (and my inner perfectionist) knew about the error.

Similarly, no one else knows when you doubt that a work of art is completed. No one else knows that you’ve rewritten a paragraph in a press release 10 times and are still uncertain about it. No one has the foggiest idea that you’re not 100% pleased with the video on the homepage of your website.

One thing you can do to save time and minimise avoidable mistakes is create checklists for self. For instance, make a cheat-sheet of what-must-always-be-included on every single postal invitation, email invitation, press release, artist bio, et cetera. Hold yourself accountable by always checking the list before pressing print or send. Though you could probably spend forever making the visual element amazing, you will at least provide essential details to get people to events, your website and so on.

Another thing to do is give yourself time (when possible) to proofread and edit, and show new material to peers to double-check. Yet by the same token, be realistic and embrace the notion that sometimes, you simply won’t have the luxury of time, and need to pull the trigger. You do so knowingly, and the good news is that your aim will naturally improve over time.

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Photographs © Chris King.

Hi Susan - you're absolutely correct in saying we spend too much time agonising over whether a piece of art or text is finished to our satisfaction when the timeliness of the work is important. Some people cope well with the balance between 'perfection' and deadlines while others procrastinate.

With my publisher/copyeditor/proofreader hat (hats?) on, I would echo your advice that any text you send out should be checked by someone else and preferably someone in whose linguistic skills you have confidence.

But when it comes to making an impression with potential customers, please don't assume that they won't notice your spelling and grammar gaffes. At last week's BSAAFF you rightly told us that presentation matters and that surely extends to our marketing materials as well as ourselves. As a stickler for correct spelling and grammar, I've often grimaced at the careless misuse of English in an artist's statement on their website. To me, that reflects poorly on you not as an artist but as a professional businessperson. It will usually be worth a bit of time and money to employ a proofreader for a few hours in return for peace of mind.

Partly as a test of whether anyone has read this far and to show that I will put my 'money' where my mouth is, I'd like to offer all members of BSAA a FREE service. For one week, until the next Sunday blog comes out, I will proofread any English text of up to 1000 words (one piece per member) and return it with (hopefully!) constructive editorial comments. Just email your words (Word doc preferred or point me at your website) to Have a good week, folks! Simon :-)