Thursday, October 23, 2014

Perfect vs Excellent

 A friend had a saying that I had to think about for a while before I understood it:  Perfect kills good.

We’ve all done it. We envision something in our minds that we think about, mull over, tweak and finally we can see the perfect – whatever – in our mind’s eye. With a great deal of excitement we swing into action and set about making it.

Unfortunately the materials aren’t quite what we thought they were going to be. The colors are not the shades we need. The process goes awry and we struggle to get it completed. When we do finally finish it disappointment sets in. The reality simply does not measure up to the vision of perfection we saw in our minds.

We brand ourselves a failure, or at least the item, and that disappointment in our lack of perfection can cause us to overlook the fact that we may have attained a high level of excellence.

Perfect kills good.

No one can dip into our minds to see that vision of loveliness that we dreamt of bringing into reality. They can only look at our actual results. Sometimes those results are very good indeed, but because we are so caught up in our perfect project we cannot see what someone else sees.

As creative people we must learn that perfect is not a destination that many will arrive at. While we always strive towards that vision we also have to learn how to appreciate what we have made. We need to learn to look beyond the original creative impulse in order to see – really see – what we have accomplished.

In a way that lack of achieving perfection is what keeps many people creating. Accepting that nothing – or at least very little – that they make is going to measure up, they acknowledge that and carry on. They learn as much about their equipment, materials and what works in terms of design and keep trying. Every project then becomes a lesson learned. Another brick in their foundation of knowledge.

I had a mentor who always said that if we aren’t making mistakes we aren’t learning. If we continually keep doing the same things over and over so that we wind up with a ‘perfect’ project, we are not pushing our boundaries. We are not learning anything new.

Most of the traditional crafts have developed over millennia. Human beings have been making things, primarily from necessity, but also from a sense of beauty and wonder. When I see archaeological artifacts in museums I marvel at the time and effort that went into making everyday objects – baskets, pottery, metal tools – as beautiful as possible. Some of these things are not perfect.  They have their maker’s marks on them in one way or another. But from our perspective, they don’t have to be ‘perfect’. We have the time and distance to accept them for what they are.

When disappointment threatens to make something you’ve made in danger of hitting the garbage can, it’s a really good idea to stop. Put the item away, out of sight. Let it rest in sanctuary for a few weeks or even months. Then after some time has passed and the memory of that perfect vision has faded, bring it out again and take a long look at it. See it for what it really is, not what you had hoped to make. Look for what is right about it, instead of what is wrong.

Learn how to recognize when something is excellent or even just good. Don’t let perfect kill good. Or your creativity.

Leonard Cohen put it this way:

Ring the bell that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

I wrote this for Craftsy but it was turned down because they already had a similar post previously published.  I think this sort of message needs to be seen - sometimes repeatedly - before it sinks in.  And not everyone reads every blog post, surely?  So, here it is, even though I've written about it here previously.

Currently reading How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson


DebbieB said...

I didn't read whatever previous blog post that they're talking about, Laura - I would have been happy to have yours posted. Glad you posted it here for us to read, good insights.

I just purchased and downloaded "The Efficient Weaver". Looking forward to watching it tonight!!

Jazmin said...

I just posted on this myself yesterday (although far less articulately, and with a whole lot more telling myself to get over myself). It's important, nay vital, to remember. I've heard it and told it to myself and others a thousand times. Sometimes you need to hear it a thousand times more to have it really sink in. Thanks.

Meg said...

I know I'm in the minority when it comes to the "P" word in some respect. I want perfection, because usually what disappoints me is my own skills/techniques, and I can't fault anybody or anything other than myself. I'd fell a little better if I encountered gradually more difficult imperfections, but inevitably mine seem to be of the "what was I thinking" category. And though I never discarded anything I made so readily, I am thankful for the local charity bins, where weaving made of good quality wool can be deposited. In the wee hours.

This is not to say I don't agree with you; I do like quirks particularly when I have the chance to know/meet the makers. But I think striving for perfection gets a bad wrap nowadays when there is nothing wrong with aspirations.

Sometimes I giggle at museums wondering what the makers would think if we were admiring their quirks many hundreds of years later.

I've been thinking of similar things, about perfection, so your post came at a good time, but it also means I don't know what I want to say at the moment...

Laura Fry said...

I think we always need to strive for perfect, but stop beating ourselves up when we don't achieve it. I know people who have been paralyzed by their fear of not being perfect and given up even trying. That seems very sad to me. :(


mageez said...

i've learned this over the years but never actually verbalized it. thank you for this. i'm going to print it out and give it to my students. i have one in particular who needs to hear this.

Peg Cherre said...

Have I heard this before? Yes. Do I need to be reminded of it periodically? Yes. Did you do so eloquently? Yes.

Can a person ask for anything more? No.

Fran said...

I too copied it out to read as a reminder sometimes. A hobby weaver needs to relax and judge herself least, a great many of us.
Wabi Sabi is to find the beauty in a cracked pottery jug, to live in the moment, with appreciation of everything; including yourself, and what you have created.
So easy to keep falling back into judgement. Thank you, Laura.

Anonymous said...

You've put something straight in my mind. I've been asked to perform 4 hand duets with a friend and the thought of doing so paralyses me. It is, as you say, because I know it is not perfect and I'm worried about making mistakes. But you are have given me courage. Thank you.

Benoît said...

Thank you Laura for this teaching. Sometimes projects don't turn out as expected but into an apparent messy waste of yarn. They may end up sitting on the loom for months until I gather enough courage (or whatever else) to overcome that state. And often, it turns into a nice thing of its own. One of my College Art teacher used to say that we are much more creative under constraints than when given total freedom. This applies to more than weaving...

Benoît :-)

Laura Fry said...

Hi Benoit, yes creative limitations can help focus the mind. :)


Louisa said...

Beautifully put, Laura! I call it the Time-Out Closet Treatment - often works a charm to distance me from the disappointment that something didn't turn out the way I envisioned. Sometimes it looks better; sometimes not. But at least I can be more objective and less attached to the results.

Love the Leonard Cohen quote! That song always gives me goosebumps.

Tonya said...

Thank you Laura, I will remember this as I work my job, and make the effort to finish that Navajo weaving piece on my loom. Neither of which are turning out perfectly, but they are good.