welcoming imperfection

“To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do–-away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart.  You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes.

“To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work, your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done. Getting on with your work required a recognition that perfection itself is (paradoxically) a flawed concept.

“For Albert Einstein, even the seemingly perfect construct of mathematics yielded to his observation that ‘As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.’

“For Charles Darwin, evolution lay revealed when a perfect survival strategy for one generation became, in a changing world, a liability for its offspring. For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides–-valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgemental guides–-to matters you need to reconsider or develop further.  It is precisely this interaction between the ideal and the real that locks your art into the real world, and gives meaning to both.”

from the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, Image Continuum, 1993