Perfection is Overrated

Manhã de Carnaval
2020, Molly Larson Cook
30 x 24
Acrylic on Canvas
The Colors of Jazz Collection


“In every situation, at the beginning or end of the workday, you have a choice. You can look back or you can look forward.
My advice: look forward. Always think about the next day. Don’t go into the studio thinking, ‘Hmmm, let’s see what I was doing yesterday?’
It takes more energy to twist yourself around and look back than it does to face forward.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life    

These days when getting to the studio is no longer an every day thing, I find Tharp’s advice more powerful than ever. If it’s hard to look forward after one day away, it’s even tougher not to ask “what did I do three days ago?”  And yet, I’m finding something solid about those two or three day intervals — a different perspective on the work when I walk back in the door.

I keep work in progress – usually two, sometimes three pieces at a time – hanging on the walls, so they’re right there when I open the door.  But in the time between yesterday or two days ago, my mind has been at work.  I’ve considered what I left and thought about where I want to go with it.  Once in a while when I walk out the door, I believe a painting is finished and I congratulate myself.  In the interim, however, well, you know…

Here’s the good news.  When I walk in and see that a painting is not finished, it’s not a disappointment, but rather an impulse toward the future.  Whatever I did in the last session might have seemed like enough, but now I clearly see that it was not and – even better – I can see what I need/want to do.  It’s doggone exhilarating!

The better news is that I recognize this as growth in my work, and every person in the creative arts longs for signs of growth.  If not, the work is stale, be it painting or writing, dance, drama or music.  Whether we’re trying out new techniques, new materials, new words or steps or notes, there’s a joy to be had in both the experimenting and in the result.  I say that knowing full well that some results are not what we expected or had in mind.  They’re not even happy accidents.  They’re a mess.  But out of the mess comes the lesson, exactly the kind of information we need to move forward.

Bayles & Orland put it a different way:

“The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the  basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential…The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your workThe best you can do is make art you care about — and lots of it!”

The arts – and beauty – are not about perfection.  They are about being human.  And who among us is perfect?















2 thoughts on “Perfection is Overrated

  1. As Tom Robbins once wrote: If it gets messy, eat it over the sink. So much for perfection…;-) Thanks for the note.

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