Letting Go of Perfect

Perfection is a concept that is pervasive and universal. All cultures have an idea of a perfect beauty or a formal concept of the way beauty is supposed to look. Creators strive toward beauty but many times the rigid proscribed concept of beauty gets in our way and prevents us from reaching our pinnacle. I do battle with perfection in every piece of artwork I make.

Beauty starts with a single example that is held up as the single standard to which all people must adhere. The Greeks formalized perfection into mathematical rules placing particular importance on the golden ratio, Phi. The Greeks placed so much importance on this kind of rational mathematical beauty that they told a story of a beautiful high class courtesan name Phyne. To paraphrase the story, Phryne was accused of impiety and when she went before the court, her lawyer tore open her clothing claiming that such beauty was incapable of impiety. She was acquitted.

Given the power of this rigid ideal, Greek statues are almost all cast from the same mold whether the sculptor is Praxiteles or Phidias. The perfection standard proscribes a certain degree of originality and demands a specific formal and rigid method of creation that disallows other expressive forms. Indeed, we see the most expression and character in those statues made of ugly Gods such as Satyrs.

This concept of perfection is always changing and ever out of reach for the average person. In my lifetime alone, I have seen a perfect female body change from a body with boyish narrow hips to a body with wider hips and a large butt. Alas for the women who worked so hard for narrow boyish hips! The fact that perfection is out of reach means that perfection has mystery as well as desirability due to the rarity of perfection.

So in art, is Mark Rothko’s painting perfect? Is the Mona Lisa perfect? The decision is deeply subjective and if an artist chooses a “perfect’ way of painting, then their creativity is restricted. For example, if I choose the Mona Lisa as perfect then I am unable to think beyond that specific standard to allow myself a more natural and expressive style. If such an artist, with a rigid idea of beauty has an accident, then the painting is “ruined”. This begs the question, what of the “happy accident”?

A “happy accident” is an accident that makes your work look fabulous. It seems as if the accident was a brilliant invention and makes the work dynamic and exciting. All artists have this kind of accident in their career but it is how one views such accidents that allow greater creativity.

Maybe perfection is something worth letting go. If my choices and creativity becomes limited because I have an uncompromising idea planted in my head, and I cannot accept my accidents with delight and I risk becoming frustrated with my work. I could overwork a creation seeking for this self imposed idea of perfection and hamstring my creativity.

Letting go of perfect is hard. I have not let go of the concept once, but many times, only to have perfection creep into my thoughts yet again. I remember seeing a show, hosted by the Dallas Museum of Art, where Michael Borrman’s monumental “The Avoider” was given pride of place. “The Avoider” is undoubtedly a masterpiece of Rembrant-like figurative art, with his large hands, column-like legs and dirty feet. The thing that made me think the most, however, is that the walking stick of the traveler was clearly altered from a taller angled form to it’s current position mirroring the straight vertical line of “The Avoider ’s” body and shortened by about a foot. Michael Borrman created a masterpiece and it was not perfect. The impact of this revelation has me battling the idea of perfection, seeking to abolish the idea from my mind.

Letting go of perfection is an introspective, and never ending, wrestling match against allowing cultural pressure to limit my inventiveness. I keep reminding myself to show my work and that a slipped brushstroke is perfectly OK. I want to free myself from the limitations that having a concept of perfection places upon my expression and that makes this battle worth the fight. Perhaps one day, I will win my battle and no longer be haunted by the idea of perfect.

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