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: 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 $10.36. 122 pages.

Read Part 5


Pam Halter said...

Anyone out there struggle with perfectionism? How does it tend to bind your work?

That's an interesting question. I think mostly it keeps you from submitting your work because it's never good enough.

When you don't submit, you never get published.

Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

Early in my specialty training, I was taught by an excellent facial plastic surgeon that "perfect is the enemy of good."

Tina Helmuth said...

I definitely struggle with perfectionism. Which means I tend to let my housework slide because I don't have the time or energy to do it "right".

When it comes to writing, a part of what contributes to my perfectionism is the belief that every other writer has a better process than me. Surely THEY don't have the mess of a first draft I have. Lately, since I can't do it "right" I haven't been writing at all. And just like the authors said, I've been thinking of quitting.

Instead, I'm giving myself a kick. Most of us probably have a mess to start with. But a mess can be fixed.

Like you, it also helps to know this is what God wants me to do. He's confirmed it to me time and again, even though I'm not published yet.

This has been a helpful series, Brandilyn. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The thing is with me I KNOW I'm not perfect--in anything. But I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now in this life. There comes a point where you have to accept who you are as a person and as a writer and write on. It's difficult because there are so many we consider to be superior to us and rejection only amplifies that notion, creating more doubt and "freezing our assets".

I've determined I must write in obedience to the Lord, hoping and asking for his infusion and anointing upon it and striving to do it with the "limited" skill he has allotted to me. I know of no other way. But the inferiority factor is always there like a taunting spirit to discourage (as in rob, kill, and destroy).

Domino said...

1. I've heard comments from multi-pubbed authors that they were embarrassed to look back at their early novels because their writing has grown so much since then. And I find myself in the Quality group in ceramics class, ending up with a lump of dead clay. I don't want to send out something I'd be embarrased by later.

2. I would submit more, if it weren't for the old saying that you only get one chance for a first impression.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Domino, I say this to those who look back at past novels and don't like what they see: What's the alternative? You WANT to look back and see mistakes, or you're not growing as an author. Do you really want to be at the very same place you were when you wrote that past book?

Tina, yes other authors DO have the mess of a first draft that you have. I certainly do. I think when I'm done going over this ART & FEAR chapter in the next few days, I'll address some things I've learned from the book--and the subject you bring up is at the forefront.

Margo Carmichael said...

Brandilyn, Richard, for years, I read, "The good is the enemy of the best." But, Richard, you're right, the opposite is true, too. Brandilyn, I just bought the book. I was set free with the first paragraph--there is only one Mozart! Yaay! LOL The first time I saw Andrea Bocelli on PBS, I started bawling and dh stared at me. "What are you crying about?" I answered, "Haven't you ever wanted to do something WONDERFUL? The man does more with four senses than I'll ever do with five!" Well, probably so! But I can still do something wonderful. And have, actually. Just not like Mozart or even Bocelli. LOL Thanks for the recommendation.

Lynette Sowell said...

Oh yes! Perfectionist, believe it or not. It's paralyzing...fear of not getting it right can cause me to totally shut down. Lately, my motto has been, You can't edit what isn't written. It helps. Sort of! :)

Anonymous said...

"Adams was right: to require perfection is to invite paralysis."

It's at the point of imperfection where perfection can begin. Kind of like "the best writing happens in the re-write." (not sure who first coined the phrase, but it is soooo true.

Thanks for this encouragement.

Dianne said...

Stumbled upon your blog while googling Art & Fear quotes. I just discovered this book today and have been looking for more nuggets of wisdom. Thank you so much for sharing all the quotes (definitely will be purchasing this!) It was a nice surprise to see you blue bracketed comments as well. I loved your last part about God hanging the moon and stars.