I love this Narragansett Bay project. Through it, I have been honing my skills as a landscape painter. Each time I started a new bay painting I hoped it would be better than the last. Ultimately I hoped I would get to a place where I could call the painting PERFECT!
Perfect! That word feels so good to me. Doesn’t it feel good to you? You look Perfect! Your work is Perfect! You are Perfect! It’s what I’ve been after in my art. It’s what most of us are after. A perfect family, a perfect car, a perfect body, a perfect blog post!
Apparently though, that’s not how things really work. Peter Fleck writes in his book The Blessings of Imperfection that we are built to make mistakes. We learn by trial and error. In fact, the very basis of evolution is errors. A mutation becomes a miracle…until it isn’t anymore and then another mutation comes along.
So is anything actually ever perfect? Is anything ever completely beyond improving?
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “ Art is never finished, only abandoned.” What did he mean? Is he saying that an artist, even a great artist, cannot reach perfection with his work? To most people Leonardo’s work is a 10 out of 10. Can it be perfect even if he doesn’t think so?
Perhaps perfection is simply an invention of the imagination, and maybe we are a bit obsessed with it. Are we overlooking the sublimity of the commonplace in order to pursue the impossibility of perfection?
This inquiry has had me thinking recently about the personal cost of striving so hard with each new painting, for that nebulous supremacy. I realized that for all the years of striving for, and believing in some kind of perfection, I lost-out on some of the joy of creation, as well as on the freedom to make mistakes and messes. I also think that at times I have overlooked my own voice, my unique contribution. Perhaps in my stressful striving, I missed noticing little mutations in my work that could open up new vistas in my artistic evolution.
I think I will follow Sara Glenn of the Painter’s Keys advice and “Fire with impunity the constipating sin of perfection” and replace it with the liberating blessing of imperfection.