Ah, the Masterpiece Mentality. We’ve all experienced it. Whether we’ve picked up a pen, a paintbrush, or even just thought about it we want our work to be the best. And if it’s not we don’t even want to bother with it. How sad is that? How many beautiful stories could have been told, or how many extraordinary paintings could have been shared if we didn’t give up because it wasn’t a “masterpiece?”
The dictionary defines a masterpiece as a person’s greatest piece of work, but isn’t that extremely subjective? Who’s to say what someone’s greatest piece of work is?
I recently started taking a painting class, and from the very first class the instructor (a pretty big artist herself) said that the Masterpiece Mentality has no place here or anywhere near the canvas. I love this alternative mentality because I have suffered from the Masterpiece Mentality for a long time. One of the reasons I haven’t picked up a brush in years is because I didn’t think I was that good at it so why even bother with it?
I was in a room full of other people who suffered from the same affliction. They were there because they wanted to learn, but they were determined to end the class with a masterpiece. Throughout the class I heard things from my classmates like,
“What colors did you use to get that exact color? How much red? How much yellow?”
“This isn’t any good. I should just throw this out and forget all about art.”
“Why can’t I get mine to look like yours?”
I decided then and there that I was going to throw away the Masterpiece Mentality once and for all and just have fun. I’m never going to be a famous painter, but who cares? It’s a fun thing to do, and it unleashes my creativity. Why wouldn’t I stick with something that brings me that much joy?
We live in a society that believes that if we’re going to attempt anything worthwhile it better be the best. Not to say that we should strive to be run-of-the-mill average, but how can anyone realistically hope to be the absolute best at anything? They say that there are only 7 basic plots in literature, but browse any library or bookstore and you’ll find several thousand books many of which are in the same genre.
Go to any art gallery and you’ll see different variations of portraits, outdoor scenes, or bowls of fruit. Nothing is original anymore. All the stories have been told, and all the paintings have been painted. The only thing that makes any piece of art different is the artist. The artist adds their own voice and interpretation to the piece, and thereby makes it something totally unique.
The Masterpiece Mentality is flawed. It has no place on the canvas, in the notebook, behind the camera lens, or anywhere else where art can be created. So the next time you find yourself paralyzed with fear that your art has already “been done,” think again. There’s only one you, and your voice hasn’t been spoken yet. So speak.