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  • Writer's pictureJules

Not Enough Data To Judge

I've noticed that a lot of artists (be they painters, writers, or anyone creating anything) have said they have a fear of the blank page. They don't want to start their project, make a mark on the page, knowing that their completed endeavour is very likely not going to meet their exacting standards. They procrastinate before they get started. They put it all off, waiting for the right moment.

outcome vs time graph
The more data points you have, the better you can judge your progress

However, I've also noticed that my procrastination is different to this. It doesn't stem from the "Fear of the Blank Page". In fact, I love a blank page! Those first marks are the most beautiful marks you can make - expressive, bold, promising, easy.

No, my problem comes in those moments after I've started. When the page starts to get cluttered. The colours are mish-mashing together, and there's a long. long road ahead of second-guessing and over-painting to be done. Is this the right direction? Did I do enough prep work? Do I have the skills to complete this to a great standard? Will this live up to my lofty expectations of what I can produce?

Now, my theory as to why this would be, is based on the graph shown above. I look at the work I've done already on the canvas (each mark on the canvas is represented by a black data point) and I plot the trendline in my head. If the first marks are plotting a line that isn't looking promising (ie: the outcome is pretty average), then I feel disheartened. How will I ever get to bridge the gap between my aesthetic taste and my talents? It can feel like a big uphill struggle.

BUT! If you look at the red data points (these are marks made later on in the painting process, once I've got into the swing of things and nailed down my colour palette) then these are significantly higher on the graph. Plotting the trendline through these points shows a decidedly different story - one where the outcome is much more pleasing and better than the initial data points would have suggested.

I should know, really, from the days when I was doing a lot of statistics in Psychology, that you need a decent data set in order to get anything meaningful out. Too few data points, and you could be wildly off. It's the same here - if you judge the outcome too soon, based on your initial efforts, you're likely to be way off the mark.

I think the biggest issue here, is that I don't yet trust the process. If I trusted the process, I would know that some marks would be lower and some would be higher. I would also know that the trendline may not indicate any sudden insight or flash of inspiration. It also suggests that creating a work of art is a linear process, in that it gets better over time, which I think we all know is not true. And, the biggest factor of all, is that this suggests that there is a guarantee that the end result will come out ok - which it may or may not.

For any act of creation, there is never a guarantee of how it will turn out. Part of not knowing is part of the excitement. The possibilities feel endless. And part of the disappointment with creating, as Elizabeth Gilbert would say, is that in order to capture the butterfly, you have to catch it and nail it the page. Once you've done that, part of what made that beautiful butterfly has gone. What you're then left with, is your best effort, no matter what that ends up looking like.

Trust the process that each time you do this, your best effort will be better, and more importantly, you will grow and learn with it. Don't give up because of how you think it will turn out, make sure you finish it. And remember, perfect is the enemy of good. And perfect means you'll quit too soon.

(And, if it ends up hideous, you can always paint over it!)

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