When Robert Zemeckis decided to do the movie version of The Polar Express in hyper-real mo-cap, he boarded a doomed vessel.
He was so focused on achieving “perfection” in realism that he made a nigh-unwatchable movie featuring awkward, zombie-eyed characters with oversized pores.
The Polar Express never became the timeless, holiday classic it might have become, had, say, Chuck Jones made it in the 60’s.
Perfectionism killed The Polar Express.
But artistic mastery is essential for certain types of visual communication.
For example, I doubt audiences would have had the same visceral reactions to Toy Story 3 had it been animated in the South Park style.
While artistic skill can strengthen your ability to communicate visually, perfectionism can kill it.
Communication Vs. Your Portfolio:
Although my Painting Drama students at The Oatley Academy hail from many different realms of commercial art (fantasy/ sci-fi, children’s books, comics, concept art, animation etc.) they all have one important quality in common.
They are all good communicators.
Clear communication was the main thing I looked for when reviewing the 50 or 60 “talking head” video applications I received during the enrollment period for my first offering of Painting Drama.
(I will be offering a new, improved version of the class in early November. This one will be open to anyone who wants to join. More details will be available within the next week or so.)
I also looked for authenticity, charm/ charisma and of course, strong potential in the portfolio.
…but clear communication was the most important thing.
Now, what does clear communication have to do with perfectionism?
Bob Dylan has the answer.
Nobody Wants Perfect:
From a technical standpoint, Bob Dylan sucks at guitar.
…but he is a legendary communicator.
He was, at one point, the voice of a generation.
Bob Dylan is living proof that a lack of artistic skill does not prevent an artist from changing the world.
…but a lack of clear communication will keep all of your world-changing ideas, your ability to tell meaningful stories, locked inside your head.
This is also why so many people love South Park. The appeal isn’t in the perfection of the art, it’s in the communication.
Here’s another Bob example:
Bob Peterson, co-director of Up and director of Pixar’s upcoming The Good Dinosaur is not a great draftsman in the technical sense but he’s a great communicator.
Get the Monster’s Inc. Blu-Ray or ‘Art Of’ book and look at the story sequences that Bob boarded. Hilarious. Appealing. Full of pathos. Clear. Oscar-winning.
Bob Peterson’s masterful communication empowered the artistic masters at Pixar to design the message. As gorgeous as they are, Pixar films are designed in service of communication, not in service of perfection.
Audiences don’t want perfection.
They want clear communication.
So the level of artistic mastery you pursue should match the types of messages you want to communicate visually.
Perfection has nothing to do with anything.
Bob Dylan doesn’t need to play like Eddie Van Halen.
“A lack of artistic skill does not prevent an artist from changing the world.”
[ click to tweet this quote ]
One of my main goals with The Oatley Academy is to teach artists how to communicate visually.
…how to orchestrate the emotions of an audience.
…how to tell a meaningful stories.
That’s the thing that almost nobody teaches and few artists can do well but if you can figure that out, you’ll get lots of work and you might even become a rock star like Pascal Campion.
The ability to communicate an intense, intangible emotion in an immersive, fictional world can make your creative career. That’s why we go to movies, read comics and play certain video games – to get immersed in a visual story and be affected by it.
Bob Dylan is not a master musician but he is a great songwriter and emotional storyteller who orchestrates the emotions of his audience.
Pixar films look beautiful because they weren’t designed with the artless perfectionism that drove The Polar Express. The Pixar films orchestrate the emotions of the audience because the inherent artistic mastery is appropriate.
South Park looks bad on purpose because perfectionism would kill the message.
Bob Peterson is not a master draftsman but he is a great comedian and emotional storyteller who relies on the mastery of other Pixar artists to complete the design of his message.
Regardless of how “good” your art looks, mastery of communication is more effective in orchestrating an audience’s emotions than mastery of the visuals.
Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not letting you off the hook.
Unless you are going to be the Bob Dylan of visual communication, you must to pursue mastery to get the good gigs.
You just don’t have to be perfect.
In fact, you never will be.
Perfectionism is pointless.
The Mountain With No Summit:
My friend Jake Ekiss calls art “the mountain with no summit” and I think he’s right.
But in Painting Drama, we study the work of artists who have climbed the highest.
…masters like Sargent, Waterhouse, Alma Tadema and emerging masters like Dave Rapoza and Creaturebox.
We learn from the best. I reveal the tools of composition and color that the masters use to communicate visually and show my students how to apply those tools in her or his own way.
I help you climb as high and fast as possible up the mountain of mastery.
…but you should decide how high is high enough to communicate effectively.
That’s not the summit’s decision. It’s yours.
Many artists get so focused on the summit of the mountain (which doesn’t even really exist) that they never look down to consider how high they’ve climbed.
…or if they’ve climbed high enough to communicate in a way that is appropriate to the meaning of the story they are trying to tell.
Worse yet, they don’t even try to communicate anything of meaning because they think that reaching the summit is the only thing that gives them permission to do so.
Yes, to work in the art department at an animation studio or for the high-profile illustration clients you have to be good.
…but you don’t have to reach the summit in order to communicate.
Perfectionism happens when you become obsessed with the mountain summit.
That obsession will kill communication.
It will kill your message, your story, your fun and it will severely slow your progress.
Now, I’m going to pass this post off to one of my current Painting Drama students and he’ll help you get past perfectionism and back onto the path of progress…
You’ll also find a link at the bottom of this post to download a PDF that you can print out and personalize to help you fight the battle against perfectionism.
Free From Perfection:
Fred Lang quit his job as a police officer to pursue illustration and immediately went pro.
He has worked for Lucasfilm on Star Wars properties and on several projects for Hasbro.
You only need to talk to him for about two minutes to understand why a high profile client like Hasbro would want to work with him.
He’s intense, inspiring, hilarious and disarmingly honest.
…and he’s great at simplifying complicated problems.
[ Follow Fred on Twitter. Check out Fred’s newest business venture. ]
This week, Fred communicated the artist’s struggle with perfectionism in a way like I have never heard nor considered.
I was so moved by this “Note To Self, For All Artists” that Fred wrote, that I asked him if I could share it with you, here on the blog.
I don’t think there’s any better way to wrap up this post so I’ll let Fred take it from here.
A Note To Self, For All Artists:
It’s gonna be okay. You’ve learned a LOT of new things over the last several weeks, and that’s good. But you’re not responsible for using all of it at once, and you’re not required to use it all perfectly just because you now know it’s out there.
All you can do is the best you can do on each piece of artwork. Then the next piece gets easier, and the next one easier after that.
The only way to get better at painting is to do more painting.
It’s possible that nobody at [YOUR CLIENT] will like what you’re doing right now. That’s okay. Ask questions, get feedback and use that information to fix the problems they see. Then come home and work on that in addition to the things you already want to achieve.
It’s a process and it won’t happen overnight.
Just keep working. The worst thing you can do is to paralyze yourself looking for goals that are higher than your current level of ability and cursing yourself for not getting there instead of praising yourself for getting closer.
I free you from PERFECT. It is no longer a requirement of your work. Instead, I’m asking you to shoot for BETTER THIS TIME every time you paint a picture.
That will get you further in the long run than looking so far ahead that you get discouraged.
Signed, [YOUR NAME]”
I made an Oatley Academy branded, PDF version of Fred’s “Note To Self, For All Artists” that you can download, print out, fill in the blanks and hang above your desk.
[ DOWNLOAD THE PDF ]
Comment and Share:
How do YOU deal with perfectionism?