Forget Perfection: Art Is About Life – and Life’s Not Perfect Either

Work in progress, 18″ x 24″, ©2019
Acrylic and ink


My last post was about labels and why they are and are not necessary or even meaningful except to the critics and art historians and gallery owners who want to know which box to put you in when they write the press release to announce your show.

But the truth is, as Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.”  In French, it’s a little classier:  “Je suis comme je suis.”  Either way, an artist – any creative person really – is what he or she is, labels be damned. I mean, really, think about Leonardo da Vinci.  Even the Source of Some Knowledge – Wikipedia – says he was “known for Art (painting, drawing, sculpting), science, engineering, architecture, anatomy.” Put that in a box and wrap it.

Labels (aka boxes) can really mess us up.  As the dancer in Chorus Line puts it so well (okay, it was lyricist Edward Kleban who put it so well), “Who am I anyway/Am I my resume?/ This is a picture/Of a person I don’t know.”

Continuing loosely with this line of thought, I come today to the perfect, the imperfect, the downright amateur and, to quote Dr. Lewis Thomas on the subject of risktaking, the “what the hell, let’s give it a try” schools of art.  Find the one you like best.

I’ll admit that my own thinking on the subject of perfection or lack thereof has mostly come from the music world.  My own life in that world has been colored by kindergarten band (I was a whiz on the triangle), grade school chorus with a small town, locally written production of The Littlest Angel), high school choir (Kurt Weill’s mini-opera Down in the Valley in which I wore a bonnet and spoke this tense and telling line: “Trouble at Shadow Creek again. Tom Boucher’s got killed.”), college musical theatre (“Phone rings, door slams, in comes Company!”), lessons as a jazz singer which ended in a panic when I was actually chosen to perform in a Seattle club, a stumbling attempt to play the piano when I was an adult (Certain upper West Side neighbors in Manhattan will remember. Don’t even ask), and hanging out in a lot of divey jazz and blues clubs on both coasts (the very best part of my music life). (And I still miss my baby grand piano.)

Yes, this all really does have to do with painting and other creative pursuits.

I entered a couple of pieces in a competition a few years back and was told by the studio owner/instructor in a big city that although the color work was great and the composition very good, I needed to work on my brushstrokes.  This was immediately followed by an invitation to join one of her high-priced classes to do just that.  I thanked her and declined.

But I was intimidated by my imperfect brushstrokes. I’d admired the work of famous artists whose brushstrokes didn’t seem that perfect, but apparently this owner/instructor didn’t like their work either.  Also, they were dead so couldn’t be sold any high-priced classes.

Then I found a contemporary Dutch artist whose work warmed my heart.  No brushes at all, just tools.  The great thing was that his high-energy work was very close to the energetic color work I had in mind, and it helped that he played jazz saxophone as well.  There’s a serious connection between jazz and the kind of art I do. I didn’t need those pricey lessons.  I just needed some tools.  From the hardware store.  (Full disclosure – I did go to art school for a while and I did take a lot of workshops – I’m not entirely unschooled.) And for me the equation is pretty simple:  Energy + Emotion = Artistic Jazz.  The kind of painting I want to do and the kind I like to see.

Back to perfection:  The old saw, “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” rings true in so many instances.  And these days, artists can be intimidated by the many forms of technology which produce “perfect” paintings or prints, all the same coming out one after another like the wretched brooms in Disney’s original Fantasia.  Poor little Mickey…

I have nothing against all those perfect paintings and prints except that they’re so perfect and not what my idea of art is about anymore than a highly engineered CD is what live jazz is about.

Scientists have gone farther now and managed to bring forth – and even sell for big bucks – paintings created by Artificial Intelligence.  Not very good paintings so far, but they’re still working on it and will no doubt perfect it one day soon. Well and good.

But until they master the real matter of art by bringing forth paintings created out of Genuine Emotion and Human Imperfection, it’s just a laboratory game.

We humans are not perfect and neither will the art we create be.  So what the hell, let’s give it a try. We have work to do and paintings to finish…



One thought on “Forget Perfection: Art Is About Life – and Life’s Not Perfect Either

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s