Comparison

Today I did some painting. I’ve only just started to learn about how to use watercolours and I’m not rolling in natural talent. That’s ok, it’s not the point. Until it didn’t feel OK.

A curious thing happened a week or so ago. I’ve been doing online tutorials for about a fortnight and one evening we thought it would be fun for three of us to do one together. The other two people were two of my favourite people. Laid back, not at all competative. It was just a nice thing to do whilst hanging out in an evening. Except that then for me it wasn’t. No one said it, but at least to me my picture was obviously the worst. It was a picture of a goldfish and we were all doing the same thing. On mine the eye was too small. The shape wasn’t quite right. It was not good to look at it. It didn’t feel good to have painted it. Instead of being a fun, relaxing thing, it felt like a sad thing. I didn’t paint again until today.

That was pretty silly. My paintings are never going to be good enough to go on display, I’m not aspiring to be a great artist. I am realistic. I was just enjoying splashing paint around and watching the colours blend and swirl. And the comparison was entirely in my own head. On the actual evening, the comments went as far as “it was fun how he did the tail”, and “I like how the colours have mixed on his tummy”. Still I thought mine was awful. Maybe objectively it was. I certainly took the least amount of time to do it which is probably relevant to the outcome. I wonder why we ruin things by comparison. Which is to say, I wonder why I took all the fun away for myself by comparing my picture with the others. Those feelings were mostly internal and came entirely from me and three fish pictures. I also wonder if I could manage to not look at all three and think mine was the worst. I’m not totally sure I have control over that, which is a real shame as I would like to consciously decide not to mind. I suppose I’ve got over it and gone back to the paint pot and carried on. Maybe sometimes life just hurts a little and we need time to heal. I think I’m missing something.

A good thing that has come from the experience is that I’ve realised that I most enjoy quick painting, sploshes of colour and quick brush strokes. I’m just not a slowly and carefully sort of person. I never have been. It would be good to develop more of that; I have been trying and I think I’ve made some progress, but when it comes to things for fun that might not be my focus. That’s lead to the discovery of Steven Cronin’s watercolour tutorials on YouTube. They are really fun. He’s a great slosher of paint and I like how a lot of his pictures look. And I quite like how some of my paint-along pictures look too. Something I noticed quite quickly is that my pictures never look the same as his. I don’t think this is only because of his talent and experience. I think it’s also because we are different people so we make different things. I wonder if that’s why it hurts when I compare my pictures with others. Inside there is a connection between my picture and me. If my picture is a worse picture, perhaps I am a worse human. If that’s the connection I’m making no wonder it hurts. What an odd connection to make. There are some violent criminals who are excellent painters, and some extraordinarily altruistic individuals who don’t paint at all. And even that is a false dichotomy, trying to make good people and bad people, let alone tying that to a random skill like the wielding of a paint brush.

Instead of concluding that I am a poor painter and a bad person I should conclude that I’m just a person who enjoys playing with paint and that that has nothing to do with some unhelpful assessment of my value as a person. Maybe I can also realise that comparison is generally unhelpful and unnecessary but that it is hard to avoid. In which case, time to heal is no bad thing and can come with a little more understanding. It’s all about growth, after all.

Obviously the picture I’ve used is the one I think is the best that I’ve done. In the hope that people say “oh, that’s a nice picture”. Alas, growth takes time…

1 thought on “Comparison”

  1. I recently picked up a paintbrush which is something i hadnt done since school. It was a paintbrush prosecco evening. Although we had the same outline, paints etc the pictures were so different. I did look over at the others and compare but I had very low expectations having enjoyed art but having no real talent. We were copying a van gough so the splodging and swirling worked well for my unskilled carefree style, but I dont have patience for anything that requires more than that. I don’t compare myself when it comes to painting because I have told myself (perhaps others told me!) I am not going to be that good and this meant that I was relaxed and therefore enjoyed it. For me my fish painting moment was just before we decided which options to take at school. It was a spider plant still life. I can still picture the spider plant my friend drew and at that point I choose drama. Comparison definitely sucks the joy out of some things and when you think its something you are good at and then “fail” I find this the most sapping. I then also end up feeling bad that I have compared myself and so this compounds things. The funny thing is others are doing it at the same time- they may genuinely think your fish painting is best, or maybe there is a grown woman out there who thinks my spider plant picture was best. Thats what I love about young children and art they are completely free of all this…for a while…

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