Monday, January 14, 2008
Art & Fear -- Part 4
Continuing in Art & Fear's chapter, "Fears About Yourself," today we look at the subheading Perfection. This part opens with an interesting story.
[My comments will be in blue brackets.]
"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A," forty pounds a "B," and so on. Those being graded on "quality," however, needed to produce only one pot--albeit a perfect one--to get an "A." Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work--and learning from their mistakes--the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."
[I don't know about you, but I really got a kick out of this story--more like a kick in the pants. The ending makes perfect sense, doesn't it. (Pun intended.)]
"If you think good work is somehow synonymous with perfect work, you are headed for big trouble. Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error. Inevitably your work (like, uh, the preceding syllogism) will be flawed...
"Nonetheless, the belief persists among some artists (and lots of ex-artists) that doing art means doing things flawlessly--ignoring the fact that this prerequisite would disqualify most existing works of art...Ansel Adams...often recalled the old adage that 'the perfect is the enemy of the good,' his point being that if he waited for everything in the scene to be exactly right, he'd probably never make a photograph.
"Adams was right: to require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: ...you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do--away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes...Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit...
To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off with it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done...the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections...are your guides--valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides--to matters you need to reconsider or develop further. It is precisely this interaction between the ideal and the real that locks your art into the real world, and gives meaning to both."
[Anyone out there struggle with perfectionism? How does it tend to bind your work? If you have this struggle, the above insights must really be speaking to you. So--is there a way you can overcome this?
For me, with any of my struggles to write, it comes down to this: I know I am on the path that God has put me on. Therefore I have God's help, through prayer, to deal with these day-to-day difficult issues. As hard as my work may seem on any given day (especially when my work in progress is a total mess, which is most of the time it's in progress), I remind myself that our God hung the sun and moon. What's a little help to a struggling author for Him? Nary a lift of His little finger.]
Buy Art & Fear at amazon.com. $10.36. 122 pages.
Read Part 5