Inside: Perfectionism is stopping you from being the best art teacher you can be. Our students need to see us try (and fail) and learn. Don’t let perfectionism stop you from having the hard conversations.
I have exciting news. The podcast is BACK!
It’s been about a year since the last episode, and to be honest, I’ve really missed making it, but I needed to think of a format that felt more authentic to the way I work. So I decided to ditch the perfectionism, and just click record.
Listen to this episode to consider how perfectionism stopping you from being the best art teacher you can be. In this episode, I share my thoughts on how to get over having to do everything little thing right and why perfection=failure.
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Perfection = Failure Podcast Transcript
Hello and welcome to the Art Class Curator Podcast. I’m Cindy Ingram, your host and the founder of Art Class Curator and the Curated Connections Library. We are here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration from the daily delight of creativity to messy mishaps that come from being a teacher. Whether you are driving home from school or cleaning your classroom for the fifteenth time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders and let’s get started.
Hello everybody! It is Cindy Ingram, and I am back for the Art Class Curator Podcast. So it has been, gosh, almost a year since my last episode, and I want to tell you a little bit about why I stopped and also talk about something that’s sort of been bothering me for a while. One of the reasons I stopped with the podcast was not because I was not really fully enjoying it. I absolutely love filming every single one or recording every single one of those episodes. The conversations were so much fun. I enjoyed meeting the people who I met and reconnecting with people who I had met previously, but it came to a point where I think my perfectionism was starting to overtake me a little bit with the whole idea of creating the podcast. Finding the guest, having a conversation, making the show notes, making the images, making sure it was edited. All of those things became a little bit of a burden, and it was kinda taking the joy out of it, and so I stepped back for a little bit decided to regroup and figure out exactly what I wanted from the podcast, and how I can move forward in a way that’s really sort of authentic to me and how I work, because I really have learned that I missed it and I loved it, but that it became a little bit hard to keep up with on a schedule that I have been doing.
So, one of the things I guess I constantly battled in my life is this tendency towards perfectionism. And about a year ago I someone told me that 70% perfection is success and 100% perfection is failure and that hit me hard because I realize that I am constantly striving for 100% perfect, and then if I don’t get 100% perfect that it is hard on me. I am constantly trying to be the very best at everything that I’m doing and I have learned that’s not really a great way to live. I’m working really hard on taking that perfectionism away. I’m trying to figure out where it comes from, why I have it, and what I can do to minimize it from my life, and release that fear. This is fear based. You know, if i am perfect then you can’t fault me for anything. You’ll still love me in all these things, you know? But I’m not going to go deep into the psychology of it.
That is something that is constantly there. I think as my business has grown, as Art Class Curator has grown, we have more people on the team, everything is more polished, everything has been more perfect than it was when it was just me behind my computer at nights and weekends while I was working full time, and it is becoming more of a polished thing, but in that process, I feel like it’s lost a little bit of it’s grittiness. So I’m bringing the podcast back and I’m bringing the podcast back in a really sort of gritty way, so what I am going to do is I am just going to hit record, and I’m going to talk about whatever topic it is that I want to talk about. I still will do conversations as well recorded, but I am going to take the pressure, perfectionism, off of me and talk about the things that I care about, the things that I know you also care about, and just have a conversation and talk about all the things that are meaningful in our lives as art teachers.
One of the things that has been hitting me lately, and it really is been something I’ve noticed throughout my years of bringing this business…. Art Class Curator began about five and a half years ago at the date that I’m recording this. Working online is a very interesting thing to do because we live in this society where you can’t do anything right. You think about a new mom. There’s this mom list like 30 things that moms can and can’t do. It says, if you breastfeed, your child will get too attached to you. If you don’t breastfeed, your child’s going to die. You’re a bad mom if you co-sleep. You’re a bad mom if you don’t co-sleep. You’re a bad mom if you let your kids play on the floor. You’re a bad mom if you don’t let them on the floor. You cannot win with anything that you do, and I feel like working on the internet or even existing on the internet as a person that this is what is happening. With our field as teachers, you go into the Facebook groups of all the art teachers, and someone is saying, “Oh ,I can’t believe that these people do projects like this cookie-cutter.” And everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, so good.” That’s terrible. And then half of the people are like, “No, there’s a place for this.” And half of the people are just like really upset you put a picture of their art with a big X on it or something. There is no room for everybody finding their own way and everyone doing the best job that they can. I feel that this really comes into play, especially for me, when I talk about other cultures.
It is a core value of my business and my teaching and my existence to make sure I’m being inclusive about cultures—that I’m open minded about new art and ideas, that I am not just showing my students the dead white guy, that I’m really expanding my own view of what art is and expanding everybody else’s. We embrace everything, but with that conversation comes with a lot of really sticky situations, because I am not a black woman, so if I am then going to talk about an artwork from a black artist, I’m immediately not in that culture. So I’m immediately removed from it and then anything that I say could then be attacked because I didn’t say it correctly. For example, in graduate school I learned that American Indian is the preferred term for Native American people. See, I can’t even say American Indian, Native people, but then you get online and you’re like, OK no one else was taught that so everyone else is saying Native American. Then I’ll say American Indian and then immediately there’s 10 people who will say, “Whoa, I can’t believe she said that.” Well, that’s what I was taught. I was taught American Indian is the correct way to go.
When I want to talk about the artwork of Aboriginal people in Australia, someone always contacts me contact to say, “Make sure you consult the elders to make sure you’re saying it all right.” I’ve also learned Hispanic is not the preferred term, but what do you do when you want to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and that’s what is Heritage Month. That’s what it’s called. That’s what the nation is calling it. The United States has called it that. It’s like, “OK, I want to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It is a thing in the United States, but I know that Hispanic is not the correct term.” I don’t think think you shouldn’t consolidate our current history in one month, but you know, sometimes it’s really what we have to work with, so what are we supposed to do in this situation? If we walked around feeling like every move that we make is going to be criticized; If we say one wrong term, it will then cause us to shut down and spend our lives walking on eggshells, tiptoeing through these minefields of PC. I get we want to be politically correct. I get that there is a journey, here of what our culture used to be, what it is now, what it will be like that. But I think that we could be less scared to get something wrong, because then we’re gonna not talk about it. We live in this sort of extraordinary time when the world is sort of opening up to this greater multicultural global awareness. We live in this time where all of the stuff is happening. There are big shifts happening in all sorts of ways, but we swing from like not talking about something because we’re scared to upset someone and then we end up with an ignorant generation. Then on the other hand, you got people jumping on other people for getting details wrong. That won’t open anyone up to learning.
Making mistakes is part of learning and we have to learn from our mistakes. If I say something incorrect, of course, yes, you can tell me about it and I will accept it. I will learn from it, but I am not going to not talk about it for that fear that I’m going to say something wrong because being safe is not how you learn. We learn when we’re uncomfortable. We learn when we try new things. We learn when you stand up for what we think, even if we might get it wrong. We are doing our very best and that teaches our students to have the grace and the courage to make mistakes, to grow and to learn alongside them. I think there could be people who say that you don’t want to pat someone on the back for trying, but I do get that trying is better than not trying, and that there is a continuum here. In the end, we need to lean into those uncomfortable conversations.
We could always play it safe, but that is not what artists do, and that’s not what we should do. We could only show artists that play it safe, just in case. That would mean robbing our students of the joy and life-giving excitement of Keith Haring, because we’re scared that our students may Google him and discover he addressed hard topics in his art, and that there are parts of his life that are not elementary ready. Or we could skip Frida Kahlo because she has some really painful subjects in her art, but then the students would miss out on the depth and personal reflection that come from an artist who really steps into her pain and her discomfort. She shares that all on the canvas. We could skip artists like Fernando Botero in Colombia who has these amazing, joyful, wonderful paintings, but then you’re like, “Oh gosh, the student might make a fat joke. Or they might find his Abu Ghraib works that are like really heart-wrenching and terrible to see the torture that he depict. We can’t just stay with playing it safe. We can’t just stick with Da Vinci, and now I even, I learned just this week the Da Vinci cut up real life people and then took them to study their organs while they are living. I’m not sure how much of that is true, so I’m just going to say that in case it’s wrong. Could be totally not a good source, but there is no way to play it safe, so might as well do things that are bold. Introduce students to big ideas and teach them that it’s okay to not get it right all of the time. You are going to get a wrong it’s so at some point. You’re gonna put your foot in your mouth, and you’re gonna feel like an idiot for a few minutes. Someone will criticize you and tell you you shouldn’t be saying or doing what you are doing, but that is the risk we take when having a conversation we need to have.
I spent a lifetime, a lifetime, of tiptoeing around trying to be perfect. I was saying trying to never get it wrong, and I’m realizing there really is no way to not get it wrong, and if you’re doing something useful, if you’re doing something valuable, if you’re doing something with purpose, you’re going to get something wrong. So I say lean into those hard conversations with your students. You might have a parent that comes back at you. But you know at the end of the day that you’ve done that thing that was the right thing, the thing that’s gonna make a difference in this world. If we white-washed everything then what’s the point? What’s the point in doing any of it?
It’s a very fine line. You can teach about specific American Indian tribes or you can make a stereotypical feather headdress. There’s a wide range of things to do here and we want to constantly be striving for the right thing, the thing that’s the best. But we are going to get it wrong because your lesson on the Mound Builders, someone might come see it and say, “Oh, you’re being stereotypical of the Mound Builders.” But we understand you can’t cover an entire culture in one lesson. That’s impossible. It’s in the whole history of people. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cover them at all. Just because I can’t cover all of the history of the Mound Builders doesn’t mean that I should just throw it away. It means I’m going to do the best I can with what the time I have, and I’m going to teach them, open my students minds up as best as I can, so we are all doing the best we can.
I remember when I was a kid we learned about Christopher Columbus like he was hero that discovered America. He didn’t discover America. My teacher got it wrong, but you know what, I survived. I made it through school. Now I know Christopher Columbus was not a hero. Now my 10-year old daughter is learning US history this year, fifth grade, and she learned that Christopher Columbus was a bad guy. We learn from our mistakes, but we don’t learn until we’ve made them. We don’t learn until we’ve stepped on the ledge and we jumped off into the unknown, doing the best we can. I know because I know that Christopher was a bad guy. Because I know that and learning that misinformation, I have a better understanding of what really happened. I have a better understanding about history was made and how history changes. History isn’t set in stone. History is constantly evolving. We don’t always have to get everything right. We don’t always have to know the answer. We just have to still try. We have to share the cultures that are not our own. Inevitably, we are going to get something wrong when you just distill an entire culture into a few lessons. You’re going to get something wrong, but we have to try. We have to try and if that means that there is someone around who’s like getting on us for trying and how didn’t do good enough, that’s OK. We chose to do the hard thing. We chose to confront this. That means we have to accept any criticism and judgement we get too. But we have to be vulnerable with our not knowing and forgiving ourselves when we don’t know. We have to lean in to that unsteady feeling instead of hiding from it. That unsteady feeling, that’s where the learning is going to happen. When you feel truly uncomfortable in your life, when you know you’re doing something amazing and doing something big and doing something great, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel like, “Yeah, I got this.” It feels like, “Oh crap. I’m gonna feel miserable. This terrifying, but I’m gonna do it anyway.” And that is how we grow.
On that same note, we have to be forgiving to other people who are also trying and who are being vulnerable. We have to understand that everybody doesn’t have the same opinion that we have, and then we have to be kind about it and not call people out when they’re just doing the best they can. Yes, we can help teach them and educate them, but we have to do that with kindness because we are trying to teach our students. We want them to be kind. We want them to be open minded. We want them to be embracing of different types of people, so it’s really important not to jump quickly to judgment, understanding that we are all doing the best that we can. Remember that. Remember that when you want to criticize another person or another teacher for their choices. Remember that when you get something wrong and you feel bad about it. You were doing the best you can too. So be kind to your own self when you get something wrong. It’s not the end of the world, and if you got something wrong that means you’re doing something right to get there. You’re doing the best you can. We see you for all doing the best you can just to call for kindness and compassion and really like lean into doing the things we know that are right even if it opens you up to a little bit of criticism here and there. In the end, it’s better. It’s better to go for it.
So, there you go. That is my new episode of the Art Class Curator Podcast, which I have not done in about a year, and I’m so excited to be back and just talking about the things that I’m passionate about, things that I care about. They won’t probably all be as preachy as this, but this is something that really is always at the back of my mind. This is something I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about, but of course, I just haven’t because, you know, you want to be perfect and you want to say it right because this a sticky situation, a sticky topic, but that’s it, that’s what we’re going to do. So, I look forward to seeing you again in the Art Class Curator Podcast. Thank you so very much for listening, and please let me know what you think. Share this on social media, let us know, and also we would love to have any reviews of the podcast. That really does support getting this information in the ears of everyone who needs to hear it, not just information but conversations and connection and insight. So, with that said, I am going to click stop. I’m going to publish this thing, and it’s not gonna be perfect. Thank you so much. Bye!
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