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.