The Perfect Trap

view from lombard, photograph

“The trap is perfection: unless your work continually generates new and unresolved issues, there’s no reason for your next work to be any different from the last.”

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Phew! What a relief. I can now stop trying to achieve that pesky perfection in my art!

In reality, I am so often aware of dissatisfaction with my work. I can look at any individual piece and see how it lacks something and, on the rare occasions when I feel perhaps I had success with some image, I can look over the body of work of which it’s a part of and note the failure of the whole to rise to the level of it’s best part. Even with my best work, I find something new I wasn’t aware of before that I feel compelled to address somehow.

For which I am grateful. Can you imagine how boring being an artist would be if each piece were a triumph? We need the occasional success but it’s the overall insuffciency of what we do that propels us forward to try to do better. Few activities in life depend so completely on not realizing our aims to have a chance to someday achieve them.

Just one of those quirky qualities of the artistic landscape…

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8 responses to “The Perfect Trap

  1. I was just part of a discussion on another site… we agreed that an artist (whatever that is) or at least the really good or great ones seem to be very unhappy people and it is that angst that leads to great art. And they are never happy with anything they do… I am boiling a bunch of thoughts down to that one… but in general I think there is some truth to it… we were a bit tongue in cheek about it, but again… it rings true. I think I like the blues because it tends to come from the real blues that is part of each of our lives… so perfection is not what makes great art for me… I am learning that great art comes from the gut, from the soul, from emotions, from feelings…. it comes from inside. To steal a favorite quote and alter it if I may… Great artists are not great because of their perfect technique, they are great because of their passion. That feels right to me….

    • Yes, that stereotypical artist angst! I don’t really think of this as unhappiness, though. The dissatisfaction or insufficiency I’m referring to can lead to unhappiness. I work hard at keeping a perspective on it, realizing it is a deep source of creativity for me, and trying to honor it for that. Helps keep the unhappiness at bay.

  2. You have convinced me to buy the book. Up till now I have been happy, but to realize my true artist potential, it appears I have to be unhappy.

    Maybe another way to say this is: doubt as to the worthiness of the image. Is it special or not? Something new? Those are the feelings I have. You just cannot predict how others will react to your creations.

    Well, cheers to misery!

    • Bob,

      Since I know you, I know your sense of humor is at play here. But I am glad you are going to buy the book!

      You say you experience doubt, as we all do. Unhappiness is one of the things we can decide to make a consequence of our doubt. But we certainly don’t need to. This book is all about the other things we can do with these inevitable feelings that arise.

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