I sometimes look back at an acrylic piece I painted a few years ago. “The Pool,” which I creatively named in the haste of submitting the painting to an art show, features a girl swimming in a crystal-clear pool somewhere on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. A boy in a red shirt stands over the pool, watching the girl as she completes her laps. In this painting, there is a single dark red wrinkle on the boy’s shirt that has a different shade from the other wrinkles. I often stare at that stroke before I fall asleep, wishing I could pull out my art supplies, some dried tubes of Alizarin Crimson, and fix up that tiny mistake.
The more I look at that wrinkle, the more I notice the other flaws in the painting, and I’m suddenly sucked into the artist’s trap: an endless loop of self-criticism where I pick at every shade that is slightly off, every faulty brushstroke.
My art teacher once told me “there are no mistakes in art.” I never understood what she meant until I finished “The Pool.” While painting, I realized that “finished” is quite a useless word. I could work on a painting for weeks, or years, or for the rest of my life, and it might never look the way I want it to. The wrinkle was more than just a poor choice of color: it was a reminder that the painting could never reach perfection.
The true symbolism of the painted wrinkle lies in my belief that you can’t be perfect, but you can strive to be the best version of yourself. With this mindset, I embraced many wrinkles in my life.
When I was thirteen, I wrote and published my first novel, Burning Embers, a cheesy dystopian story with a predictable plotline. Looking back now with the perspective of a more seasoned fiction writer, I sometimes want to trash that book. But Burning Embers was simply a wrinkle that I might spend years trying to smooth out, and I would just have to accept that my trajectory followed an exponential graph, and I was on the upward trend.
For me, the hardest part of art and writing is deciding when my work is “finished” enough to share with the rest of the world. Yet, this concern bleeds into other areas of my life. The many wrinkles I’ve witnessed remind me that my work isn’t about flawlessness: it is about presenting something that is beautiful enough that I am reassured I tried my best.
So maybe “The Pool” didn’t have perfect colors. Maybe the shapes were slightly off, and maybe the title was pretty bland. But each stroke of paint fell onto the next with the dexterity and care of a hardworking artist: not the best artist, but a dedicated one, and I could be cheery and filled with pride for the progress I made along the way. I am proud of “The Pool,” and I am even more proud of who I have become today. My painting is nowhere near perfect, and I am nowhere near perfect, but there are many more years for me to learn, grow, and change. What I’ve realized now is that as infinitesimal as a single point might feel in the long-winded road to perfection, I can still believe in an asymptote towards which I am ceaselessly striving.