By Cat Robson
Painter Elizabeth Murray comments, “When I’m in the studio working, I reach a point at which I know I could stop – that the painting is fine as it is – but I feel that there’s something else I want, something more, and I keep pushing, bringing the painting to another place.
“I scrape off what I have and try something else. That act of pushing myself to make a change – even though maybe what I have there is okay – that, for me, is excellence. It’s pushing yourself further than you think you can go.”
Among other acclaims, she has received a MacArthur Foundation Award. [O, The Oprah Mag., Dec 2003]
[Photo: Elizabeth Murray in her Manhattan studio, 2002: Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 2 episode, “Humor,” 2003 – www.art21.org.]
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But perfectionism may not only be positive or simply about pursuing excellence.
In her article Can You Be Too Perfect? (July 2009 Scientific American Mind, see excerpts), Emily Laber-Warren agrees, “Perfectionism can encompass some positive qualities, including a drive to succeed, an inclination to plan and organize, and a focus on excellence.”
But she also notes, “Perfectionists can become discouraged by failing to meet impossibly high standards, making them reluctant to take on new challenges or even complete agreed-upon tasks. The insistence on dotting all the i’s can also breed inefficiency, causing delays, work overload and even poor results.”
Psychologists have devised strategies to ameliorate perfectionism – such as purposely writing both a refined essay and a “sloppy” one, which was still graded as high quality.
Laber-Warren refers to studies that show these approaches in therapy can reduce symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and bulimia, and helped 10th grade girls diminish negative body image.
See posts on perfectionism on the High Ability site