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Submitted on
July 25, 2013


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Since we're on the subject of taboos, I feel it necessary to talk about this one. This one pisses me off and it's very much a cornerstone to a bigger issue with our artistic community: The idea and assumption that as an artist you MUST improve at all times. 24/7. No exceptions. Every work you produce must be 10x better than your last. You must constantly strive for perfection. To ignore this "truth" is to commit the terrible sin of rejecting the very concept of improvement, and you will never break out of your "comfort zone."

I'm here to tell you that this is hogwash.

Well... partially.
You should strive to improve. Never say that I don't encourage improvement. It's why you go to school, why you go to college, and why after college you continue to work on your art. You always want to be better. The problem is that far too many people have a strictly binary concept of what "better" is and on how to "improve."

First off, there is no pinnacle of perfection. There is no singular mountain with a summit for only the most amazing works of art. Improvement for an artist is not a linear path straight up to a single point. I want to make that very clear because it's a fallacy so many people firmly believe. Like all aspects of life, there is a wide range of artistic styles, goals, crafts, and skills. There are many mountains and hills and valleys and paths to take, but for some reason the common wisdom is that there is only one path and one mountain.

There seems to be this vague concept that only hyper realistic art is desirable. It's the mentality that old master's paintings from the renaissance are more important and revered than modern more abstract art. It's the idea that a highly rendered digital painting with enormous amounts of detail and variety in shadow and light is inherently "better" than a flat monochromatic cartoon. It's the whole "high art" versus "low art" belief, and we are all being silently judged and categorized on this list.

But art is much more than that. You don't have to make the most realistic anatomically correct paintings to be considered a good artist. This whole "high art" goal had been so pounded into my head during college that afterwards I refused to let myself explore. I was under the impression that the ONLY way to be a great artist was to make paintings, with "deep" meanings and messages behind them. There was only one goal, and my constant failed attempts to achieve it was very difficult for me. I felt like a failure because no matter how hard I tried, I could not achieve the level of quality and "high art" that I saw around me (And wouldn't you know it? Those painterly works I did in college are often cited as my "best" by those who are critical of my cartooning work).

I learned an important lesson then. There isn't only one goal to try and achieve. Firstly let's put to rest the idea that you must be perfect at all times. As Salvador Dali once said: "Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it." This is not meant to be mean-spirited, but instead liberating. You can strive to improve and get better, but since perfection is technically unobtainable, you should not dedicate your life towards trying to achieve that which you cannot have. Making mistakes is how we learn and grow and get better. Don't be afraid of not being perfect.

And that's been my philosophy for a very long time now. I know that I will get better and improve. I will practice in my spare time and I will make what I feel is quality art for the project that I am working on. But I will not go out of my way to force improvement upon myself unless it is absolutely necessary for me to do so. And this is where the poisonous "high art" mentality I spoke of earlier comes into place.

People seem to have an aversion to things which stay the same. They see it as being "lazy" or not breaking free of the "comfort zone." It's viewed negatively by many and there are even those who violently oppose the very idea of letting your art grow at a gradual pace. They think that by jostling these artists out of their "comfort zone" they are doing them a favor and helping them grow, but more often than not it's detrimental.

And of course that mindset ignores when staying consistent is beneficial. Yes, there are actually good reasons to make art that is similar in nature. If you're running a web comic, for example, making sure the characters and settings are consistent between strips is highly important. If you work for a comic company you need to be able to produce consistent artwork that doesn't vary in quality. If you work for an animation company you need to be able to learn how to draw consistently in a style that may not be your own, and to be able to learn a whole new style and maintain that one as well for years at time. There is skill and honor in being able to maintain your craft and not shake things up.

Cynical improvement for the sake of it is almost as bad as refusing to improve at all. You can't force change, you have to let change happen. This is why I've always hated it when people look at my comics (which are meant to be posted on a semi-regular basis) and complain that they all "look the same" and are "stagnating." Yeah... they're kinda suppose to be like that. They're a series. It's not to say I won't improve and change things when I feel I need to, but demanding change for no reason other than to change is arrogant.

Let me reiterate, because I have a feeling people might forget, that I AM NOT AGAINST THE IDEA OF TRYING TO IMPROVE YOUR ART. You should absolutely do so when you can and when it's right for you. Likewise there are also a lot of fundamentals that we all need to learn. It might not seem like it's appropriate, but figure drawing and drawing from life can help you in a variety of fields, not just the ones dedicated towards realistic art. You should absolutely experiment and try new things.

But this singular narrow-minded mentality that you MUST constantly improve your art 24/7 or else you'll never achieve "greatness" is bullshit. It's a mentality that does more harm than good to our community. People should be allowed to grow and improve at their own pace. If they ask for help, help them, but don't force them to try and change.

There are many mountains to climb and it's incredibly unhelpful when an artist is halfway up one to point to another mountain and tell them they should just apparate over there now. If an artist is struggling with their realistic anatomy, you don't hand them a book on "how to draw cartoons," right?

I know that this is gonna be seen as me "rejecting improvement" but I really hope that most of you don't see this journal in that simple-minded way. I am not rejecting improvement, I am rejecting the belief that everyone must march in step to some socially accepted norm of our artistic culture. There's more than one way to make art, therefor there is more than one way to improve.
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RoseSerpenthelm Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2014
"Strive for perfection in your area, and be happy when you achieve a 98%" :D
Gnome64 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
People do tend to forget that art is meant to be enjoyed...
Gnome64 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
I gotta say, though...the people who are the most critical and harsh about improvement are often those who are not very good themselves. I see it as a difference between people who walk the talk, and those who just keep talking.

If you've got a big and critical mouth, have the skills or an implemented work ethic to back it up.
Jennikey23 Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

"There seems to be this vague concept that only hyper realistic art is desirable. It's the mentality that old master's paintings from the renaissance are more important and revered than modern more abstract art. It's the idea that a highly rendered digital painting with enormous amounts of detail and variety in shadow and light is inherently "better" than a flat monochromatic cartoon. It's the whole "high art" versus "low art" belief, and we are all being silently judged and categorized on this list."

Silencelabyrinth Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2014
Thank you :) This is actually one of the much more sensible things I've read about improving in art ^ ^
Devilfire-Dragon Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2014
(( OCC/Admin: This is an incredible argument I stumbled upon. It has cheered me up! :iconclapplz:  ) 
SisterHipster Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
My motto in life from what someone has spoken to me has been "Strive for excellence: avoid perfectionism" and that very same motto is what aligns with what you are saying.  One should keep learning, but shouldn't beat themselves up about the skill level the person is at.  It takes TIME! 
LeccathuFurvicael Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2013
A thousand thank-yous and 'hear hear!'s be upon you! I feel similarly on this topic, but have not personally stated it as such to a public audience. It is so wonderful to hear this stated in such eloquent terms. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
frederickofolympus Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013
Artists have their own pace, like regular people. Some blossom right away while other do take time. Same with an artist's evolution/progression. I agree that in order to improve you must constantly hone your skills and never stop but you must also learn to observe because we as artists are observers first before we ever put our thoughts and creativity into a piece of paper or canvass. When you observe things around you, people, nature, you tend to absorb these into your psyche and along with your creativity and imagination, manifests itself thru your art. 

My opinion about progression is that as human beings we are designed to adapt, to learn, grow and evole so being an artist is but a natural extension of that. We evolve as we acquire more outside stimuli or influences around us and then we apply it to our lives and to our art. Never force yourself to progress or adopt a certain style of art but rather it should be a natural process or inclination on your part. I feel that you'll find yourself and your art style/niche better this way.
omtay Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2013
Everyone should strive for an unreachable goal, because the further the reach, the better you become, even if you can't get to the end.
And yes, you can force change, as in, you are the only one who can change you.
You choose the rate of change and how it changes you.
As for this "cynical" stuff. I don't understand what thats about. I'm not even sure if its even a thing.
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