The Christmas holidays can be a lovely time for some cosy seasonal crafting and a good way to fill (and calm!) some of the long and often excitement-filled hours leading up to Christmas itself. However, it can also be a busy and pressured time, with the temptation to make everything we do during the festive season picture-perfect…
Whilst striving for beauty and excellence can bring great satisfaction in the things that we make, for me, very full times like this are a good opportunity to remind myself that there is also a place for the things that we make being simply “good enough”.
Over the years, Simone has explained many times, that we are evolutionarily defined to focus on the negative – as this has survival value. In her blog post, A strength or weakness? – Imaginational OE Simone gives the example of seeing someone become ill after eating a berries from a poisonous plant; our brains will focus on this and remember it in order to recall at a later time when it might keep us safe.
I’ve often wondered about this concept in relation to creativity too. Does our tendency to focus on the negative play into artistic perfectionism and the creative critical voice? Whilst our survival might not depend on the outcome of our creative endeavours, it can be uncomfortable to create something we don’t like, find pleasing, or that doesn’t match our inner vision. We can be a little hard on ourselves at times, and there is the risk that after a few negative creative experiences, that we choose not to create at all, in order to prevent the uncomfortable feelings of disappointment. This is where the concept of ‘good enough’ might come in handy…
I don’t think ‘settling’ for good-enough has to mean compromising on striving to create things that we find pleasing, match our inner vision, or meet more external values for what is beautiful, exceptional, interesting or original. Instead, I wonder whether it can be actively used as a tool, to help us either when we are just starting out and practising a new creative technique or discipline, or at times when we really just want to make something for the pleasure of making, and without focusing too much on the outcome.
In my experience, there is an element of awareness raising, that comes through practice, and beginning to notice when the critical creative voice is interfering with ‘doing it anyway’. Practising a skill does often involve making mistakes and trying things over and over and sometimes it is more black-and-white than others – for example if you’re mastering something mechanical, or electronic, or maybe coding – mistakes are going to have clear consequences and practice is more a case of keeping going until something physically works.
When it comes to working towards a more subtle inner idea or creative vision, so many other things can come into play; our personal taste, likes and dislikes intermingle in a sometimes-mysterious way with more external values we might have been taught about beauty or what ‘good art’ is. Sometimes it is a case that we can visualise in such clear detail something detailed and complex that we want to make, but simply haven’t yet learned the techniques or acquired the physical skill that frustration arises from this place. Or we’ve had experiences in education settings where our version of a creative task didn’t turn out anything like the original and were therefore critical of our skills.
Part of practicing towards a creative skill then, might also be the practice of consciously accepting ‘good enough’ in order to recognise that our efforts have been worth it.
Practical value and baby steps
By approaching a project from the outset, with the intention of allowing it to be just good-enough, it’s possible to re-frame a creative task from any subtle pressure to make something beautiful, to permission to learn and explore. At such a picture-perfect time of year as the festive season, it might be that we are working towards external ideals a little more than usual, and it is worth remembering that aesthetic taste and notions of beauty can be so subjective; what one person thinks is beautiful, another might find uninteresting – perhaps something that falls into your ‘good enough’, might be a vision of perfection to someone else… since it’s impossible to know, there’s every chance that adopting a “good enough” approach is more than good enough! 😊
It can take some practice to shift an ingrained mindset and shouldn’t be yet something else to pressure ourselves over! With this in mind, one possibility is to still allow ourselves the freedom to work on something where we do focus on the outcome being aesthetically pleasing, and then have one or two projects where we consciously choose to allow it to be in the good-enough camp.
To begin, I find it useful to set aside the original vision for a time, and focus on the steps before me. Make a start, work on something until you feel it is ‘good enough’ and consciously complement yourself for the effort, and allow this to give you the energy to begin again the next time. So often, the original vision will be reached anyway (despite being put to one side for a while) – sometimes there will be extra unexpected details – but the key is in making the steps along the way feel a little more gentle.
Sometimes it is entirely necessary to go through a very messy stage of a creative project before it fully takes shape, like cracking an egg to make an omelette… it can definitely be a good tool in your creative belt to be able to adopt a “good enough” mindset for this stage of the process, as a way of bypassing or dialling-down the critical voice.
I also think adopting a good enough approach is useful and practical when it comes to trying out and exploring a wide variety of different arts and crafts. It can take some time and experimentation to find the things we most enjoy to make, eventually leading to developing our personal style, and the more we experiment the more our skills and preferences build. Just as more negative experiences might stop us in our tracks, positive creative experiences build up over time as well! Having a good-enough approach, is a-kin to having a process-led approach where the effort along the way and the enjoyment of the act of creating is valued over the outcome, and can often lead to positive feelings within the creative experience. This can build up over time, helping us look forward to creating, and to keep creating over and over again.
Ultimately, it’s about applying a bit of extra compassion to the creative process, especially at this time of year when (time and energy might be in short supply) there are always so many lovely things to make and do!
In the spirit of ‘good enough’ here are a few tips for some calm crafting over the holidays that we have found useful in holidays past:
Keep it small – even making little decorations can feel like an accomplishment at this time of year! I have been eyeing up these super-cute seasonal jumper decorations this year and will be making some at home; they are inexpensive, simple, and shouldn’t take too long to make…
Keep it simple – often, sticking with simple crafts will mean that it’s possible to finish what you have started in a reasonable amount of time, and having something complete at the end of a craft session or two can be one of the most satisfying things.
No need to reinvent the wheel! – sometimes there can be a subtle pressure to come up with something new and original in order for it to be exciting each year, but oftentimes, crafting is more about the experience, and doing something at all… so feel free to gather ideas from magazines or online, and if anything, sticking to family traditions is also something that can be factored into festive creative endeavours – for example making a wreath together every year, or decorating a ginger-bread house.
Make things that are practical, useful and fit with the season – decorations are an obvious one, but gifts, gift boxes, greetings cards can also be an activity that is practical and useful and can be as easy or complex as you like (you could attempt to make your own pop-up greeting card if feeling ambitious!).
Wishing you a warm and cosy festive season, with some calm crafty days in the mix too.
© 2022 Abigail Cole
For more creative ideas visit www.forgetfulfairyartstudio.com
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