Perfectionism isn’t necessary! – ArtAchieve

This is a guest blog post written by John Hofland from  ArtAchieve has a number of listings in our FREEBIE FEBRUARY event.  Please check them out!


One of our customers had invited me to teach an art lesson in her third grade classroom. I chose to teach the lesson on an Elephant From Ghana. The drawings were developing nicely, when suddenly a girl in the back of the room started to sniffle. As I looked up, she was crumpling her paper.

The teacher rushed over. “No,”she quietly told the girl. “You may not do that.”

“But I made a mistake!”sobbed the girl. “Now it’s ruined! I hate it.”

But the teacher remained firm, insisting that the girl smooth out her paper and continue drawing. “Find a way to use the mistake,”she told the girl.

I found myself feeling sorry for the girl, and—as a guest instructor—probably would have let her start over. But the teacher had handled the situation wisely.

Afterwards, she mentioned that the girl had been making a habit of tearing up papers and starting over because of a mistake. “It’s a habit that will cause her huge problems; it already has. She has to learn to accept mistakes. Perfectionism is not healthy.”

Is perfectionism such a bad thing? Psychologist Thomas S. Greenspon finds that anxiety over making mistakes may hold perfectionists back from ever achieving success in the first place. “The most successful people in any given field,”he notes, “are less likely to be perfectionistic, because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in your way.”

He goes on to say that “perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect”.  The one thing these people are decidedly not-perfect at, research shows, is self-compassion.

Interestingly, one of the things we learn in an art class—or in any creative activity—is that mistakes can be our best friend! The line that went awry or the color that spilled into the wrong place can prompt us to change course, use the “mistake” in surprising ways, and discover new ideas that we might have never discovered without the “mistake.”

For that reason, ArtAchieve lessons include the reminder, “There are no mistakes. If you draw a line you don’t like, draw another line you DO like. Keep drawing. Sometimes it takes several more marks before you know if the drawing is turning out the way you want.”


Gordon Flett, a psychologist at York University, advises parents and teachers to talk about mistakes they have made or failures that have had to overcome,”he said. “This can reinforce the ‘nobody is perfect and you don’t have to be either’ theme.”

Another way to combat perfectionism is by reading Beautiful Oops! by Barney Salzberg. The playful graphics of the book invites us all to turn mistakes into something beautiful. After all, the tear in your paper might become the mouth of a roaring alligator! Who should read the book? Amazon says its age range is 3 – 18 years. I’d say it’s an inspiring reminder for ANYONE.


Works Cited:

“The Alarming New Research on Perfectionism” by Melissa Dahl.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg.


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