Perfection is the Enemy of Art

This is a phrase that one of my acting tutors used to say to us all the time. I always thought it was a pretty interesting and comforting phrase, but its become even more relevant to me over the past 6 months, in regards to my eldest charge.
The phrase has a lot of good stuff rolled into it. Of course, firstly, its trying to say that art isn’t perfect. More importantly, art is not about being perfect, because perfection isn’t interesting. You don’t look at Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry, Starry Night’ and say its a ‘perfect’ representation of the night sky.
But, another way that you can read it is that striving for perfection, that is, perfectionism, is the enemy of art. There are many ways that perfectionism can be the enemy of art. It can kill the final product, when, in a constant effort to polish, to improve, to perfect, you destroy the rawness, excitement and life of the original artwork. Or, it can make something that might have been daring and cutting-edge and pull it back, make it safe, in an effort to please others or for approval.
But perfectionism can prevent you even getting to the final product. If you’re an artist like me, there’ll be innumerable files saved on your hard drive, two or three pages into a script, a story or an idea, that have been abandoned when the reality of what I was creating couldn’t match up with the perfection that was imagined in my brain. Perfectionism can even stop you getting started, in the form of procrastination.
My eldest charge, however, takes the pursuit of perfection in arts to new levels. She’ll come up with a hugely ambitious plan of something she wants to paint, or draw, or create. She’ll begin. It won’t be quite right. She’ll try to fix it. It won’t work according to her pre-determined goals. She will then destroy said thing. She will rub out the lines of her drawing so hard that the paper will rip and she will then proceed to scrunch it up and throw it across the room. She will mix all the paints into brown sludge, put her hands in it and then put it all over the table, herself and the walls. She will give up trying to create a story with her dolls doll house and instead, pull it all down.
Its become quite distressing to me, as I understand her feelings, the desire to make it wonderful and great, but I find her complete refusal to even attempt to make the things she wants to completely impossible to understand. I tell her she needs to practice, I try to show her what to do, but none of it works. She tells me she has practiced, or insists that I make/draw/paint the thing for her instead. Lately, I’ve tried to explain to her the spirit of the title phrase, that art isn’t perfect, that nothing she does is wrong, and that the important thing was for her to have fun. She proceeded to wipe black paint all over her T-shirt and told me that was what she found fun.
But, perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Perhaps she is a creative genius, an artistic rebel so cutting-edge so far ahead of myself that I am just completely misunderstanding her. Perhaps she’s the next bad boy/girl of the art world and one day I’ll be lambasted by art critics for washing out her early masterpieces with soap and bleach.
Unfortunately, I think she is just a more extreme example of myself, when our impossible demands and expectations of ourselves can prevent us from achieving anything at all.


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