Comparison, productivity and white paint


a consideration or estimate of the similarities or dissimilarities between two things or people 

Social comparison theory states that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of domains (for example, attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success).

I tend to “constantly make self evaluations across the artistic domain”. No, wait! Come to think of it, the capabilities domain, the good-wife domain, the health domain, the mid-life domain ..

My mind shifts quickly from adding to that list to what I “achieved” today. Something that went some way in helping me to feel productive maybe even creative and that wasn’t something that I would tarnish with an automatic comparison.

I painted. Albeit not a scenery, nor a portrait to make me feel a sense of accomplishment or moment of pride, but it involved paint and a paint brush. A very good step in my “add-more-creativity-into-every-day” journey.

I can see the thick white paint sticking like peanut butter to the black acrylic bristles, sludging as I slopped the brush along each beam of our twenty foot by twenty foot carport to cover the film that had developed over the five years since Bill built the carport.

I don’t mind painting. I’ve painted quite a few things around our home not only because we are both tight arses but to put a fresh look over the place and feel house proud. I guess I also feel somewhat obliged to do my bit and also cut my Bill a break – he’s not as young agile as he used to be. Besides, he hates painting. Says it was as boring as f…

white paint tin

So, I thought about why I don’t so much as hesitate to paint repetitious white lines on linear undeviating wooden panels, and yet I find it ten times harder to paint something colourful, beautiful and artistic. Why I almost enjoy taking one colour (despite white actually not being a colour) along a panel of wood over and over and over again.

As I painted I thought of the old cliche of painting being ‘meditative’ but that didn’t sit quite right. That term doesn’t sit right for a lot of things lately – the whole “it’s good for you because it’s meditative” garb. So there I was, stretching to find an appropriate description and explanation for not minding the art of simple paint application.

Given that the last couple of days I’d spent viewing, pondering and comparing myself to professional artists and writers – which left me feeling a little crushed via a sense of under achievement – I figured this type of painting was not the type that demanded anything from me or asked for any comparison. This type of painting was constructive, productive and purposeful. These are things I find hard to feel or find in artistic type painting. This type of painting was the type that gives you that sense of ‘productivity’ without comparison or judgement. I don’t find it hard to paint a block of wood to make it look fresh and keep it from rotting but I find it hard to paint for art’s sake; to paint without judgement or comparison and yet still feeling like I’m being productive.

Painting a carport does not require as much if any “consideration or estimate of the similarities or dissimilarities between two things or people” (comparison), it does not “determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others” (social comparisons theory), whereas art and being artistic – for me – does promote comparison, and is often used to measure against others, especially in determining if it’s ‘good enough’ and therefore used as a means to determine personal worth.

If I were to follow my own advice (I often give my design students advice to create from their own ideas without getting ideas from Google, for example), and if I allow my intuition, my innate creative abilities to surface with the same simplicity I have when painting panels of wood, I’d possibly be a very content and unjudging artist, painter, illustrator, writer who doesn’t need to compare her work with others or feel the need to paint only to feel like she’s been productive. If ..

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