William H. Bailey (1930- ), an American figurative painter made this statement when John Gruen interviewed him for The Artist Observed: 28 Interviews with Contemporary Artists. It may seem contrary, but I find Bailey’s pronouncement comforting. His “failure” doesn’t sound negative. Rather, it seems to be an acceptance of the way things are in the creative process. Despite being a successful artist and Kingman Brewster Professor Emeritus of Art at Yale, he knows that his work isn’t perfect and never will be.
Another friend opened my eyes to what perfection might not include. She and I viewed an exhibit by a textile artist we both knew. When I marveled at her perfect skill--everything cut and stitched and lined up so evenly--my friend, herself accomplished in this art, pointed out that, despite its perfect construction, the work lacked a certain feeling. For her, something vital was missing that the perfect workmanship couldn't replace.
Without minimizing the importance of high standards for my own work, I realized that obsessing over a few uneven stitches is clearly a waste of time and has nothing to do with creating art. Besides, don't we appreciate and value what shows the human hand over what's entirely machine-made?
As both a writer and a textile artist, I know what it's like to first imagine a book or wall hanging and then try to make it into something you can actually hold and look at. In my mind, it feels perfect; I should say, impossibly perfect. How could it be otherwise? As I work to materialize the inner sense of that project, something less than perfect inevitably results. As tantalizing as it is, perfection is always just out of reach, like that luscious-looking ripe peach at the top of the tree. No matter how far I stretch, it's always too far to grab.
[T]he work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but...the paintings are very far from being perfect--completely removed in fact--even as we ourselves are.
I don't mean to imply that this ancient aesthetic appeals to everyone, including in Japan. It is a nation that embraces the latest in technology and worldwide trends. But I am grateful that wabi-sabi acknowledges defects, small or large, as not automatically negating the beauty of an object. Instead, it treasures how much those characteristics convey what's naturally true: ultimately nothing lasts forever, nothing is perfect, nothing is complete. It's not something to grieve over, but to accept, even as we quest to achieve the impossible
Another approach to perfection comes from Japan. In contrast to the Greek ideal of beauty--those perfect proportions, that gorgeous body--wabi-sabi suggests something unexpected. A traditional Japanese aesthetic of beauty derived from Zen, wabi and sabi have changed in meaning over their long history. For the sake of simplicity, in Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Leonard Koren defines them as "a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete." It speaks to what is unpretentious, even inconspicuous, unconventionally beautiful, rather than shiny, new, and unblemished.
If perfectionism rears its head during the creative process, how do you deal with it?
What does it mean to you that something is artistically perfect?
How does the word “imperfect” or “imperfection” affect you?