Tag archive for » perfection «

I Can’t Get No. . .

Sunday, 24. September 2017 23:46

As I was mulling over my dissatisfaction with my latest photo shoot, I realized that dissatisfaction is something I experience with every photo shoot—and every play I direct, and everything I design, and every image I make. Then I realized that dissatisfaction is nearly a constant state with me; insofar as it applies to art, I’m never satisfied.

It’s not about perfection. I gave up on that a long time ago. I came to believe, as Seth Godin preaches, that the search for perfection is a fool’s errand that prevents the artist from getting anything out the door. It’s the reason that paintings (and all other artifacts) are never finished.

Those of us who have given up on perfection, however, still have standards, and often those standards are expressed as satisfaction. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being as good as it can be. I realize that that is a very fine distinction, but still the distinctions exists. Satisfaction means being happy—or at least content—with all aspects of the final project; it denotes a relationship between artist and artifact. Perfection, on the other, indicates that there is absolutely no way to improve the final project; this is a quality of the artifact only. And this, of course is virtually impossible; any artist who attempts perfection is not likely to have a significant output.

Even though satisfaction seems to represent a lesser standard—as compared to perfection—it’s still difficult. Most artists set the bar very high. And therein lies the problem. When the bar is high, the artist sometimes fails to reach it. There is always something that could have been done better, something that could be clearer, or cleaner, or more imbued with meaning.

There are three ways to deal with this situation: (1) set the bar lower; (2) improve the quality of your work; (3) learn to accept dissatisfaction.

Some artists opt for setting the bar lower or redefining the bar. The result is that their work, which was never “good enough,” now is. Dissatisfaction dissolves. If the bar was sufficiently high to begin with, this is just a matter of labeling. The artist’s output will remain the same, both in terms of quality and quantity, and the artist will feel better. This should be the choice particularly of those artists whose standard is unrealistically high, like those who are really looking for perfection.

Improvement would be the choice, I think, of most artists. The problem becomes one of deciding what to improve. General improvement might not get to the source of the dissatisfaction. So a bit of analysis is required. The artist must answer questions like: does the dissatisfaction arise from the same issue in each project? What aspect of the project causes the dissatisfaction? Is the level of dissatisfaction consistent with each project or does it vary project to project? Of course with the answers to these questions there will be follow-up questions. Once answered, the artist can see where and what s/he needs to improve.

Dealing with dissatisfaction can mean just getting used to it, or it could mean undergoing psychoanalysis, or it could mean anything in between. This approach acknowledges the persistent existence of dissatisfaction and attempts to find ways for the artist to come to terms with it without modifying the work.

Most artists I know experience dissatisfaction with their work to some extent, and most of those artists have chosen some combination of these three methods to deal with it, with greater and lesser success. How do you deal with your artistic dissatisfaction?

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Don’t Let Perfection Get in the Way

Sunday, 28. July 2013 23:32

“I’m a perfectionist; I can’t help it. My work isn’t finished until it’s perfect.” How many times have you heard an artist say that? It doesn’t matter what his/her art is, the result is the same: it will never be finished—because it will never be perfect.

Many of us have learned to seek perfection. Whether we have been taught this, or just happened to confuse working to a very high qualitative standard with trying to achieve perfection is an open question. Many of us were pushed to do better and achieve more as we were growing up; others of us figured out that that was the way to succeed in our culture.  Reasoning as children will do, we decided that if excellence was a goal, perfection must be a higher goal, so we became obsessed with making things perfect.

So now when we try to make art, we set an impossibly high standard for ourselves: perfection.  Never mind that it’s unachievable, we still try to get there. This is one of the excuses for much of the bad behavior for which artists are notorious. We even romanticize it; the striving for perfection becomes part of the mythology of what it means to be a real Artiste.

What really happens is that perfection itself becomes the goal rather than creating excellent, meaningful art. So those of us who are still aiming for that perfect performance, or painting, or photograph, or film or whatever have our eye on the wrong thing. We should be concerned for our work, not for some abstract concept that we mistakenly learned to seek as youngsters.

But many artists, as well as non-artists, have this affliction. And it is an affliction. Brené Brown, sociologist, psychologist, and educator, has said, “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”

But what about the famous perfectionists, the ones who, because they are always striving toward that abstract goal, generate huge successes? What about Steve Jobs? Actually, some writers credit Apple’s success not to Steve Jobs’ legendary perfectionism, but to his learning to loosen his rigid stance.

How then are we to proceed—those of us who believe in excellence? We must supplant the concept of “perfection” with the notion of “good enough.” Now, before you raise the cry of mediocrity, let me say that “good enough” means just that—good enough to satisfy you and to exceed your standard of excellence. You can set the “good enough” bar just as high as you would like—just short of perfection.

According to Seth Godin, “Good enough, for those that seek perfection, is what we call it when it’s sufficient to surpass the standards we’ve set.Godin goes on to say, “Anything beyond good enough is called stalling and a waste of time.” So the time that we spend trying to move past the excellence of our highest standards to perfect amounts to running in place.

Voltaire was another who was not a fan of perfection, and Voltaire was a man who knew something about making art and getting it out the door, having written over 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He said it very plainly: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Maybe it’s time we quit worrying about making perfect art and instead make good art.

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