So it comes as a surprise and delight to me that so many of my clients are arty and artistic and even artists. Because what I know about art I learned on BBC’s The Big Painting Challenge and, to me, that was as much about art as Bakeoff is about cake.
I’m a journey-aholic, you see. I enjoy people doing their utmost. I like to watch them strive and develop and for surprising winners to emerge, and I love to cheer them on. This, after all, is my work.
I’m learning that there are special challenges involved in working with arty types. I knew this about creative types because I’m one and so many of my clients are too. With us writers it’s the romance of being a bit of a drama queen about it all, a tad precious, a bit ‘starving artist in her garret’, preferably in somewhere Hemingway might have created an opus, at least in our minds. I’ve been to many writers’ houses, including Hemingway’s in Key West, Keats’ in Hampstead and I’m sure a few more will come to mind later today too.
But something one of my arty clients wrote yesterday has been on my mind for more than twelve hours and I awoke this morning wanting to write about it and explore it a little further. The gist of what my client said, or at least what I inferred from what she said, was that some of her work (much of her work?) involves not getting it quite right and not getting what she wanted. And yet, due to a pledge she’d made to me, she’d published it anyway.
I think the inference was that if she didn’t have deadlines, her struggles for perfectionism or at least an outcome she could live happily with, might go on indefinitely and there’d be no product in her business at all, which would be a terrible shame since I and her peers and her clients all love what she creates.
What I can see in lots of my clients is how unsettling this sort of thinking can be. What if it’s not right? What if it’s not perfect? What if I’m rubbish? What if I never create what I want? It can be more than unsettling actually, it can be all the way up the scale to totally disempowering. But I also see now that it goes with the territory. And I can even see the upside, offering the possibility for what I am going to be calling an arty stretch.
Perhaps settling for good enough most of the time is OK. But now and again an arty stretch, where you are good with not being 100% satisfied with your output, that’s part of who you are as an artist, part of your work is to strive for ever better (in not too punishing a way) and that’s just how it is for you. Learning to accommodate that and feel aligned or sanguine or even content, that was a fresh thought to me.
I teach my clients that perfectionism isn’t commercial, that you are only going for perfect to satisfy your own needs and that clients do not choose to afford perfect and don’t even want it the way you do. I still think that’s right. However I now also see the possibility for those of us who are down with that to borrow from my artist client now and again, and go for an extra stretch. Just for the heck of it.
As with everything, it’s all about balance isn’t it? Enough stretch to feel satisfied, that you did the best you could within the criteria, all things considered. And enough of a stretch not to feel you coasted, were lazy or slapdash or just going through the motions.
It’s a fine balance but one I intend to pay more attention to for a while, inspired by an artist.