There was a man who set out to carve a statue. He spent days selecting the right block of wood. He considered the color, grain, hardness and texture. At last, the perfect block of wood was found and he took it home.
He set the block of wood up on a table in his studio, and spent days selecting just the right tools with which to carve. He pondered the pencils with which to draw on the wood the first rough outlines of the statue’s shape. He mused over the chisels, saw blades and other implements. At last, he made his selections and began to carve.
The man spent a month carefully drawing the rough outline of the statue which he beheld in his mind on all four sides of the block of wood. Each line was exact, not too wide, too narrow or too dark. He painstakingly sketched the shape onto the wood until sweat poured from his brow.
At last the day arrived when he struck the first blow of chisel to wood. He removed each chip precisely, agonizing over each action, sometimes taking an hour for a single cut. At last, after several more months, the statue was roughed in.
Stepping back he studied it critically.
“Hmmm,” he said, peering at a spot on the upper section of the statue. “That’s slightly crooked. I need to fix that.”
Taking his tools in hand again, the man began to smooth the statue, refine it’s lines, adjust the fine details.
As he worked, visitors came to his studio. They marveled at the statue, praised his skill, spent hours drinking in the beauty.
Still, the man knew the statue wasn’t perfect. It mattered not to him that everyone praised it, or expressed how beautiful they felt it appeared. He could see the rough spots where the outlines didn’t quite match his vision, and so smiled at their praise and continued to work.
Many more months passed, and one day a friend came to visit him.
“My friend,” the visitor requested. “May I have a look at your marvelous statue? The one you were carving when I was here last year?”
“Certainly,” the man agreed. He reached into a drawer, extracted a tooth-pick and handed it to his friend.
“This is certainly a fine jest,” the visitor laughed. “Now may I please see the statue?”
“That is all that is left,” the sculptor explained, a tear trickling from his eye.
“What on earth happened?” The visitor wanted to know. “Why it was taller than you are yourself when I saw it last!”
“I know,” the man nodded.
“And it was beautiful,” the visitor went on. “More so than any statue in a museum!”
“Yes,” the man agreed. “It was.”
“Then what happened?” The visitor insisted. “Did someone break in? Destroy your work?”
“No,” the man explained, sighing heavily. “I did that myself.”
The visitor looked at him in shocked silence so the man went on.
“You see, all I could see were the rough spots, places it wasn’t correct, the mistakes. I sanded and I carved, but the more I worked, the more it looked wrong to me. In my pursuit of perfection, the statue wore away until all that is left is that tooth-pick you hold. I’m sorry.”
“How terrible,” the friend comforted him. “Well then, perhaps I could view some of your other works? Surely you have many of those?”
“I’d be glad to show you,” the man agreed. “I fear though, that I have no other statues, but…” He opened the drawer again and took out a small box. “I do have a lovely collection of tooth-picks.”
All artists strive for perfection… but what price do we often pay for that pursuit?