Flawed Genius

It was said that the Chinese used to believe that a work of art was not complete and whole, unless it had some kind of flaw in it.  Perfection was not the goal, something with a human stamp of imperfection was the highest aesthetic standard to aspire to.  In keeping with this philosophy, many of the ancient Chinese artists would make a tear in their picture, chip a finished piece of porcelain, or otherwise besmirch their work, on its completion.  This was to show that the work was beyond perfect.  It had a deliberate flaw added at the final stage, to demonstrate this ultra-perfection.

To my way of thinking, this was missing the entire point.  No doubt, there is some wisdom in the notion that a safe piece of work that looks to be perfect is precisely that – a safe piece of work.  True art pushes the boundaries of the artist’s capabilities, in my opinion and thereby admits the occasional flaw.  That’s part of the innovative and creative process.  If you seek to go far beyond what you had made before, you are bound to make a mistake or two along the way and this is not only to be accepted, but encouraged.  It’s a good idea, in the main, to agree that fine works of art are likely to have some sort of mistake or defect in them.  Otherwise, they’re formulaic.

However, when an artist creates what they consider to be a perfect work and then deliberately besmirches it, that’s to subvert the whole reason for accepting flaws in fine works of art.  It is, to me, the height of artistic arrogance to proclaim your work to be perfect and then, as if to underline that statement of perfection, introduce a deliberate flaw, as if to punctuate the point.  The artist is saying, in effect, that their technique and creative vision is so complete and beyond improvement, that the only flaw they were able to introduce was a deliberate act of vandalism.  Well, the racing driver Mario Andretti used to say “if you think you have it all under control, you aren’t going fast enough” (or words to that effect).

To me, creating art is all about testing yourself.  It is a process of continual growth, if it is to have any meaning and give any satisfaction whatsoever.  Repeating the same formula over and over again, until you have it down pat, might be impressive to some, but to me it’s anathema.  I can imagine nothing more boring than painting the same painting over and over again, until it is flawless or repeating the same piece of music, until you sound like a record.  Yes, I understand that many artists make a decent living doing exactly that, but I like the idea of constantly searching for new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating and new results.  I’m not against rehearsal, planning, plotting, measuring, sketching or preparatory outlines.  Those all have their place.  But the work itself – that must be an expression of striving beyond your known limits, even if you have done a lot of repetitive preparation.

The irony, of course, is that a work of art presented as perfect, even if it has been deliberately marred to introduce an artificial imperfection, is nothing of the sort.  Perfection is an aesthetic judgement.  The same work, to some, will be deeply imperfect and unmoving, but to others a paragon to be emulated by all.  That being the case, you might as well push your technique and your creative powers to their very limits and beyond.  What have you got to lose?  You have everything to gain.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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3 Responses to Flawed Genius

  1. Janet says:

    Well said (as always!) Thank you for denouncing yet another myth of what an artist ‘should do.’ Imagine striving for a perfection that requires damaging your work; one must wonder how that bit of insanity evolved… what guru was misunderstood? what disgruntled adjudicator not in their own creative process subconsciouly conspired to damage artists’ works? What brilliant artist who accidently damaged their works created a new myth to turn that broken piece into perfection?

    I wish we would all individually recognize the perfection in everything… that is the only perfect. The ‘other’ perfection is some elusive ‘something’ that is unreachable, therefore, one is never able to say ‘good enough’ or better yet, “I love it.”

    As a creative, my perfect is showing up to what I love, basking in the process, finding my strongest inspiration in the random warps of a pot, unexpected spill of paint, or a typing error. My perfect is bravely putting it ‘out there’ even if I think it’s kind of crappy (but still perfect because it exists) – because my ‘perfect’ knows that for some odd reason, someone is going to bond with it, and that’s when I get to witness the magic and perfection of the creative process which snuck in the back door and made sure I made it for that person.

    And when I’ve really pushed my boundaries and techical flaws evolved that disappointed me… yes, I have found myself ‘apologizing’ for the mistakes… but always to looks of “is she nuts? this is awesome” .. so then I try hard to shut up.

    It’s very late here in Canada.. I probably need to reread this, but I’m going to press send. Or should I do some damage to this first to prove this comment’s perfection?

  2. Pingback: Debunking Myths, Redefining Perfection. «

  3. Coreena says:

    Thanks for this, very thought provoking. I’m a writer who edits and edits and edits, but am getting better at saying, OK, it is done now and putting it out there.

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