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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In search of (im)perfection – a longread


Outside the lines...
The ways of the world
When was it that we were taught to color inside the lines?  Probably around kindergarten or first grade, depending on our family or school culture.  I’m sure this was based with an eye to the future, hoping to instill craftsmanship early on in the psyche of future workers and leaders. 

We often claim to admire perfection – in art, beauty, landscaping, possessions, achievements.  My Word program gives synonyms for perfection as excellence, faultlessness, precision and rightness, words colored with a flavor of craftsmanship and some perhaps with a sense of judgment.

Maybe we aspire to perfection in our careers, outward appearances, education, manners, social circles.  Sometimes perfection is sought in religious or community standing, or through the collection of certificates or degrees.  It’s especially sought in artistic activities and admired (let’s not go into post-modern stuff here and the ways it breaks apart past culture!). 

I agree that there is a breathtaking rightness in the cetain things: a curve, a glow of light, vibrant color, touchable textures, a striking arrangement of shapes and form.  These parts make up a whole that has meaning for us in some way. 

These are the things that light up our lives.  Why?

The crack
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
~ Leonard Cohen

Imperfection in itself is not the goal; there are too many adverse examples of it floating around our world.  But there is a type of imperfection that glows and transforms when we crack the perfect shell it lurks behind. 

It is a mystery and often elusive.  We have trouble defining it, but we recognize it when we stub our toe on it.   The recognition is a form of knowing deep within our soul and psyche: sometimes a subtle glimpse, sometimes a breathtaking flash.  Sometimes it takes a very hard knock before the light comes cascading in. 

The ways of artists
And what does this have to do with art and nature?
While craftsmanship and technical skill are valuable traits to develop, another form of art has been slowly gaining its own.  
The light in the trees: Beartooth Mountain.

Plein air sketching and painting, art journalists, nature sketchers, and urban sketchers have a profound digital presence on the Internet and run the range from definitive art to “crafty” expressions of art.  More and more I find myself responding to “the hand of the artist.” 

I prefer a quick sketch that captures multitudes to a perfectly formed and rendered artwork.  These are the marks left that tell us about the artist’s interaction with their media: the “artist’s authorship.”  A brush stroke, a water bloom, a drip, a smear.  Often imperfect to those technically inclined, they tell a human story that we respond to.   

Sometimes they create a space for something meaningful to emerge.

The grace of imperfection.
Imperfection seen in nature depends on the lens of the viewer as well.  The spotted leaf, decaying fruit, a broken twig – these all have an innate beauty to me.  The “perfect” specimens they once were do not tell much of a story.  We can relate to the passage of time on the world around us: we fall apart, slowly or quickly, sometimes breaking… sometimes scarring.  This is when light has its opportunity, shining from within or entering from without.  Transforming if we accept.

If you are an artist (in any media), open to your internal story by embracing the unexpected: the ink blot, the unexpected raindrops, the brush that skips.  Watercolorists have learned to call these happy accidents.  Explore the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, what writer Taro Gold calls the “wisdom of imperfection.”  

Artists create art.  It is that simple.  Let that be your goal, rather than the perfect brush stroke, the flawless graded wash.  Tell your story and let the paint and brush tell their story.  Play!  The creation you make will be far greater than its  parts.  What a mystery, and what a beautiful thing for those with eyes to see it!


Deeper exploration for those who love to read
“The Beauty of Imperfection: The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi,” Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D., Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201701/the-beauty-imperfection

“Deliberate Imperfection,” an online exhibit, Carla M. Sinopoli, Guest Curator,
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan.

“Kintsugi: the art of precious scars,” Stefano Carnazzi, Lifegate. https://www.lifegate.com/people/lifestyle/kintsugi

Enso, the Zen symbol, Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ens%C5%8D

“Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting,” Maria Popova, Brain Pickings.