Art & Fear: The Danger of Perfectionism
The following is an excerpt from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I show this to my writing students every semester, and I almost always seen a few pairs of eyes light up in realization. It's an encouragement to me during the "down" times of the writing process, when I feel like I will never write another true or beautiful sentence again (or worse, when I feel like I've never written one ever). I hope it will be an encouragement to you as well.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an “A.”
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.