Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron to illustrate the gift of imperfection in a blogpst by Yang-May Ooi

Victorian photographer and artist Julia Margaret Cameron is an inspiring role model for giving up on perfectionism and embracing the gift of imperfection, says creative artist Yang-May Ooi. Allowing our work – and life – to be imperfect can reveal a beauty in it that we may not have been able to see before.

Let go of perfectionism and appreciate the flaws and blotches – reflections on Julia Margaret Cameron’s work

I came across this article on the BBC Culture website, “When Mistakes Make Art” and was immediately intrigued. The essay explores the work of Victorian photographer and artist Julia Margaret Cameron which is being shown at the V&A till 21 February – so you have just about enough time to catch it while you can.


According to the writer Amanda Ruggeri in the article:

“Her photographic contemporaries criticised her work for being out of focus – which she says she did deliberately – for being ‘slovenly’, as they put it. For leaving flaws, like splotches and swirls you get from the uneven application of chemicals, or smearing things when the plate was still wet. Those kinds of flaws are things that the other photographers would have discarded as mistakes. She seemed to either accept, at the very least, or embrace them.”

It made me wonder – what might happen if we allowed ourselves to appreciate the flaws and blotches in our lives? Instead of berating ourselves and others, we might be able to wear our human failings more lightly and be happier in ourselves. We might even be able to open our hearts more to each other.

The misery of wanting to control everything

I remember seeing a young family in the park once on a gorgeous spring day. The beautiful little girl had blonde girls and a pristine white coat on. She must have been about five. She was sobbing and terrified. Her mother was berating her for being stupid and clumsy because this dear little girl had been eating an ice cream and had dribbled a big splodge onto the pristine white coat.

It broke my heart to see this child miserable and in distress who might otherwise be frolicking and laughing and making a muddy, ice creamy, sweaty mess on this lovely sunny day. It seemed to me that her parents had had an idea that their little girl should be a beautiful living doll and had dressed her in an expensive white coat that was in itself ridiculous for a child of that age to be wearing. That image of her, the cost of the coat and their idea of what their perfect family should look like appeared more important than appreciating their little girl in all her messiness and clumsiness. And so she wept when she might have been laughing.

What you can do to embrace the gift of imperfection

# When you feel that sense of stress that comes when things are not going how you’d like them to go, pause and take a breath.

# Look up, look around, get your focus out of yourself and your stress. Notice the space around you, the objects, the people.

# How is your approach to how you want things to go impacting on the people around you? What do you see – fear, distress, anger, defensiveness? How are these going to affect your relationship with them going forward?

# Take another breath. Think about what might be beautiful and joyful in this situation and let that be all important. It may be hard at first because you will be focused on what is not right – that’s the challenge for you. In any situation, there is always something good to be found, no matter how tiny. Find that tiny bit of good – and more than that, find what might be good about the very mess or problem that you are upset about. Use your drive and focus to find that.

Your stress will most likely start to ease. Engage with those around you more lightly. Be with yourself more lightly. How might the imperfect situation be of service still to what you want to achieve overall? How might you resolve the problem differently? And maybe what you thought of as a problem might not be a problem after all…

Photo: from the BBC Culture website, with thanks

Author: Yang-May Ooi

Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre & family memoir), The Anxiety Advantage and Creative Conversations (podcasts). ¦

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