How the search for perfect leads to bad art

by

Work from class here in France

(Hello from France! I’ve missed you all so much. Kisses!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection and art lately.

As I work in class and push to improve and see clearer, I’m beginning to realize that perfect is in the wrong direction of where I truly want to go.

I find that in class, I’m often just trying to “get it right.” Get the drawing right, get the colour right, get the forms right.

But for me, right = perfect. And because I’m so worried about getting it “perfect” that I often sail right past good and beautiful.

Beauty and good art are found beyond the realms of the perfect.

My teacher mentioned in a passing comment the other day the idea that something that is “perfect” pushes it in the direction of something “perfectable.”

Which also means that it’s reproducible.

Great art should never be able to be reproduced according to a set of prescribed rules. Using concepts and theories to understand something – yes.

But the perfect and the beautiful aren’t the same thing. Beauty doesn’t follow a prescribed set of rules. If that were true, we could just mash up all of the best parts of all of the most beautiful celebrities and logic would dictate that we would have the most beautiful person.

We’ve all seen the photoshopped version of that. It’s a frightening Frankenstein’s monster version of beauty.

My search for perfect actually holds me back from making better art.

Perfect and beautiful are on parallel paths to each other. As long as I’m seeking one, I can’t even see the other.

People talk a lot about how perfectionism isn’t useful and stops you from doing whatever it is you want to do because no one is perfect and it’s unachievable.

But what if perfect was an undesirable goal to begin with? What if – even if perfect was something you could attain – what if perfect is actually a bad thing to reach?

If something is perfect, and therefore perfectable, then that means anyone with enough time & dedication can do it. It removes creativity and unique personal insight entirely from the mix.

Sure, if you’re building vacuum cleaners or warheads, then you want a reproducible process that people can get “perfect.”

But if you’re making anything even remotely creative, I’m proposing that you should remove perfect from your vocabulary entirely. Or at least give it a new personal definition.

Find a new goal in your work. I’m searching for beauty, grace, finesse. Maybe you’re going for “delightfully wacky.” Or quirky. Or any number of things that isn’t “perfect.”

Perfect isn’t worth your time. You have gifts, insight, magic. Perfect will strip all those things away and leave you with…

Boring.

I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life. Even though people warned me against it, they stupidly told me that the reason I shouldn’t aim for it is because I’ll never reach it.

You know what my response to that was?

Fuck you. Just watch me. (Me, stubborn? Never.)

No one ever pointed out to me that perfect was an unworthy goal. That it didn’t matter if I could reach it, because nothing I was truly searching for was hiding out in perfect.

There’s no beauty, magic and mystery in perfect. Only Stepford Wives.

So I’m going to put down the mantle of perfection and start a new journey instead. It won’t be easy. The story of perfect is so alluring, so tempting: If you could just get it perfect, then everyone will love you and success and happiness will just show up at your doorstep.

Sigh.

I wish.

Instead, I’ll search for the graceful line, the beautiful movement, the delicious, sparkling colour, the aliveness within the painting – the intangible truths that eventually lead to great art.

What will you replace perfect with?