Monday, August 24, 2009

Passion vs. Perfectionism

"I'm afraid that if I..." What? A pregnant pause. I visualize the faces of dear friends who challenge me to press through the fear...

Boys line the park's benches, empty sketch pad waiting for the krsh-krsh of charcoal pencil, watching Miss Sheri demonstrate, her gentle voice instructs on perspective. I hide behind the safety of camera lens.

"I can't draw!" a boy, fingers squeezing pencil, slams fist against sketch. He tears off the page and crinkles it recklessly. My heart feels a pang of empathy.

Teacher Miss Sheri coaches, urges, "You can! Don't compare yours to anyone else. You are unique. So is your art." I listen quietly, captivated by this coaching.

Younger one's giggles and squeals play as background music, their merriment care-free, uninhibited... unafraid.
"That's great!" Sheri affirms a boy who has held up his sketch, windows to the soul, for her to give feedback. I watch the boy's satisfied demeanor, returns pencil point to white space, filling it in, skritch-skritch.

This expression of uniqueness...
...this process of creating...
...enjoying the created... enthralled by the power of the Creator...

Me, wanting it to be perfect... giving up before it's hardly begun... frustrated, I feel myself squeeze circumstances, slam my fist against life, crinkling my attitude recklessly.
"You are an artist," she is telling them when I wander back over their way, "because you are created in the image of God...
...and God is the ultimate Creator."

A week later I am sitting in Sheri's living room. Long tables are covered with paint-splotched tablecloths. She hands me a canvas. A canvas! I attempt to hand it back. My heart aches with the passion to try something new, get out of my comfort zone, open myself to stretching experiences. I tell her, "I can't draw or paint. Could I perhaps just have a piece of scratch paper?" Her laugh is easy, pleasant, ever so gentle.

"It's the word 'canvas' that scares you, isn't it?" She reads me, and I wonder if the empty canvas of my heart is that obvious.

I think of the line I read from a book on how to write, "Familiarity dulls our perception; contrast illuminates," the author, Hans P. Guth wrote this while instructing on comparison and contrast prose. And though the passion is there, it feels suffocated by what if I make a mistake? what if I ruin the canvas? what if I just make a mess of the whole thing? And the words of one of my heroes comes to mind, "Failure isn't fatal." (Thank you, Larry T.! I love you!) I'm afraid that if...

The words are drowned out. I am sitting in a chair, paintbrush in hand, bottle of white paint in front of me. She is telling me, "Everyone is an artist. You'll see." She tells me to paint over the black and white photo I've chosen among the stack of Charlie Chaplains, Shirley Temples, and John Waynes. This photo chosen because I've long looked up to this heroine who I admire for her wit, her sense of humor, her ability to somehow mess it all up in spite of her good intentions and still find redemption in the end.

I'm mortified when Sheri tells me to pour a dollop of white and black paints on my Styrofoam plate and then apply them over the photo. "Paint over?!?" But... Reluctantly I begin. It's painful. I'm losing the original shape, scared I won't be able to retreive the lines and shades. I carefully, meticulously brush first white, swish-swash in the water, then black, then repeat, tracing lines, filling in shades. My heart sinks. It's a mess.

After a while Sheri comes around to check our work. She offers her affirmations, asks if she can do something on it. Of course! I hope that maybe she'll redeem it somehow. Instead, to my horror... and then wonder... she mixes the black and white paints, making different shades of gray, applies a little here and there to the canvas, then puts the brush in my hand again. The black is no longer perfect black. The white is no longer perfect white. Now, here, I have shades to work with. The perfection replaced with something that can possibly redeem what I've begun. With trepidation I mix the colors myself, dab a little across the cheek bones, highlight curls in her hair. The painting starts to take shape.

In the end, when I hold up my painting for Sheri to see, delight is evident in her voice, "See? I told you you were an artist! Remember, you're made in His image!" She pauses only momentarily, "And in the beginning, God created..." I smile.

In the words of another one of my heroines, Bethany, "It's time I stand a little taller, step a little closer."

Oh, that I may be willing to dangerously surrender, play the fool, joyfully embrace what appear to be imperfections, knowing that God is passionately working out His design and destiny in my life, redeeming my good intentions. May He get all the glory!

Perfect Love casts out fear. I John 4:18

(Black and white photo of Lucille Ball.)
For more encouragement from Sheri, visit her blog.

1 comment:

  1. My favourite line? "Oh, that I may be willing to dangerously surrender, play the fool." That is my prayer too, to care less for what people think. I still get caught in trying to please those I care about. I want to walk in FREEDOM. Okay, that had NOTHING to do with any art but "life as art.":)

    I always thought that I would be a painter when I grew up, but God had other plans (up until now.) I find myself painting with words instead; creating a picture that others can step into. You do that so wonderfully. I also express my eye for "picture" and beauty through photography. You do that so skillfully. I ADMIRE your eye for the moment; the skillful capturing of form and shape.

    But you stepped out of your safe place--and that took courage, and trust in the teacher. What a lesson in that! :)