Tag Archives: creative

If I Wanted a Perfect Painting

Painting by my nephew, Mason

“If I wanted a perfect painting, I would go to the store and buy one. I want yours, that is uniquely you,” the loving mother told her young child. The child was worried he could not make a picture that was perfect enough. I appreciate the mother’s intent, her effort to nurture her child’s creativity, but I would say something different to this little boy.

I would tell him there is no perfect painting. Implying that there is and that I preferred his still allows the concept that his work falls short to remain in his mind. And all paintings have flaws of some sort, which is wonderful because it means we do not ever have to stop creating. We can always reach for more.

Instead I would characterize his concern as a function of technique, since painting a picture combines the inspired expression of self with techniques that make the most of the type of paint and paper. I would tell him children have a great joy and power in expression of self that most grown ups have lost, which is why we value the artwork of children in the first place.

Around 8 years old, children typically start learning with a practical purpose, how to make things happen correctly in the physical realm, the need to know how to do things. This is healthy enough but is far healthier when that inspired sense of self, that innate gift from the divine, remains intact. Which it rarely does in our culture, our school system, our ways of training children into adulthood.

So I would tell this young man I would like him to treasure that creative joy and power in his self expression, that it is a gift from god. It is too easy to take something for granted when you do not know what it is like to not have it.

He can learn more techniques to be able to put on paper images that more clearly express his inspirations. That can be great fun. But many people lose the inspiration in the pursuit of technique. When inspiration is lost all that remains is a dead mechanical rendering, which may be a pretty picture at a glance.

But that painting is just like plastic fruit in a bowl. It may superficially look like living fruit, but there is no life in it. The painting is dead as can be. I would caution this young man to go ahead and learn as much more about painting technique as he would like to know, but to keep his great joy and power of expression alive while he does so.

Combining that inspiration with strong technique is what makes truly great paintings, paintings that deeply move and inspire others. And young as he is, this young man has a head start on doing just that. The world needs a lot more of that joy and power.