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.