Sunday, July 09, 2006

Just Perfect

Back when I was a student I had a drawing instructor who gave us a very unique assignment at the end of the semester. We were told to do our very best drawing. We were also told to do the very best presentation that we could (mat, frame, etc.). For the final class we were going to meet out at the beach, build a bonfire, have food and drink, and have a critique. Cheap wine has a way of making critiques less intimidating. After all was said and done, the instructor told us to toss our drawings into the bonfire.

Of course this horrified most of the students. He finally told us that the point he was trying to make was that no matter how good we thought we were, how perfect we thought the drawing was, as students we still had a long way to go. If we couldn’t let go of what we thought was some of our best work then we really wouldn’t be able to grow and move ahead. I was one of a handful of students who tossed our work into the fire and I have never forgotten that lesson.

So, is there any such a thing as a perfect work of art? Is there any such a thing as perfection? What is the definition of perfection? I’m sure that this varies from person to person. One of the best definitions that I’ve heard was by one of my favorite writers, Thomas Merton. Merton was both a writer and a Trappist monk. I was listening to some audiotapes that were made when he was teaching classes for the novice monks and the subject of perfection came up. In the Judeo-Christian bible, Merton pointed out, the author of the book of Genesis tells us that God calls to Abraham and says, “Come walk with me and be perfect.” Using the act of walking as a metaphor for perfection. What an interesting idea.

What is walking? It is purposely throwing myself off balance and when I start to fall forward I stop myself and balance again. I do this over and over and it moves me forward. This metaphor of walking tells me that perfection is about being off balance repeatedly and constantly moving forward. Perfection is not static; it is not a goal that can be achieved. Rather it is an act of doing, it is active not passive.

So much of this is true for being an artist. As an artist I want and need to keep pushing myself. I need to keep going forward. For anything to truly be alive, it needs to keep growing and changing. All living things need to keep evolving otherwise they just become some dusty museum piece. And with this evolving comes change and new ways of seeing the world around me, to have new ways of understanding. Of course, this means that I must develop new ways to respond. Life is not static or predictable, it is always moving and changing and more frequently than not this is a messy process. As I move forward old ways and definitions no longer apply. I need to reinterpret my world. Answers that were once safe and used to work are now irrelevant. There is no safety net. I may fail miserably or I may have fantastic success. Either way is fine because it is about the process and the process gives life. As I move forward in life I approach perfection. As I approach perfection I approach truth, and as I approach truth I approach God.

The above painting is titled "Orchard Trees In A Row" and was completed yesterday. It measures 15" X 18.75". This piece is done on sealed and primed paper. It was blocked in using oil paint and overlayed with oil pastels.


Blogger Lesly said...

Hi Ed

I really love this painting ...

and I really enjoyed reading what you say. Being ready to keep striving and learning, never to become complacent with one's work. At least that's what I got out of it .... and that's how I feel. Still looking to make that perfect painting!

5:05 PM  
Blogger Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Ed, I had an instructor who made us destroy our work as well. Or she would do it, depending on her mood! That taught me not to consider my work so precious that I a) couldn't sell it and b), what you discuss, couldn't move on, even if I think I just did my best piece ever. In six months or maybe even six days today's perfect piece will be old news.

Good post.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Hi Lesly, I figure my perfect painting will come when I'm too old and feeble to pick up a brush. Sure hope that's not for awhile.

Hi Tracy, isn't amazing how a few weeks or days can correct our ideas of what's perfect. Occasionally I go back and look at work that I did in my student days. It's good for the soul not to mention it makes my blood run cold.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Ed, what a fantastic gift of a post.

Your parsing of the "walk with me" metaphor is like water on parched ground, and the whole was just what I needed without having known I needed it.

Guess I liked, eh?

Can only imagine what the colors really look like in your painting, but they blaze enough off the monitor to suspect they would make my sternum vibrate. Thanks for sharing.

9:35 PM  
Blogger amber said...

What a wonderful post Ed
Well vocalized Truth is supremely important I hope i never paint that perfect painting ,for what could ever come after

9:58 PM  
Blogger jamieson5 said...

Thanks Ed, for an excellent post. I love Merton but have never related his writing to my art, great insight!

9:30 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Morning Lori, WHAT! You don't think my colors are subtle, lol. I've been told that I have the sublety of a sledge hammer.

Amber, thank you for the kind words. I figure my "perfect" painting will come on the day I die because only then will I not be able to go forward anymore.

Hi Shari, thanks for stopping by. I like what I see on your blog.

9:46 AM  
Blogger The Epiphany Artist said...

wowee I love the painting and I love the incite on walking keeping us off balance.. I need to ponder that one.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Lesly said...

Hi Ed ... thanks for dropping by with your comments. Yes the framing costs for pastels are enormous! People just don't realise.

I have a small selection of oil pastels which I have only tried once! ... I am not sure what how they are supposed to be used. Do you think that you could do a post with tips on using them? For one thing do they dry out enough for them to be used on bare canvas?

Oh and one more thing ... what do you mean by 'plexy' as opposed to glass?

I am cross-posting this with the 'playing with water' post on my blog ....

thank you in anticipation!

3:55 PM  
Blogger Lisa Call said...

Wonderful post Ed - I think your professor was quite wise. As a self taught artist it has taken me quite a while to figure out this lesson on my own although I don't think I would have been able to put my thoughts into words quite so well. I have a post on a very related topic coming up when I find the time and I'll be referencing your post.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. It's not too often that I meet a fiber artists. I'll be looking forward to your blog.

8:30 AM  
Blogger The Tart said...

Great story & what a fantastic piece of work. I love the colours! They speak volumes to me. ; )

The Tart

BTW, I found U via Lori in Texas! Howdy. ; )

5:14 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Howdy Tart, you Texacans are so kind. I'm glad you liked the words and images.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Well, Ed, I like a sledge hammer.
Cold steel hammering red-hot iron on an anvil can be just the thing...


10:40 PM  
Blogger Shan said...

Have to agree with all who complimented this post. I really enjoyed it.

This reminded me of an episode of Northern Exposure (I'm a bit of a N.E. nut) where Holling was making paint by number paintings and very proud. Maurice (art collector) informed him they weren't real art, he sought the advice of Chris (resident sculptor/free spirit) who took him to the furnace and instructed him to burn them, telling him, of course that the art is in the process.

Holling couldn't bring himself to burn his work and the point of the story I came away with was that both there is a place for both product and process-centered art.

I think it's possible there are many routes to perfection. Some of us let go and some of us hang on. Ironically, in the N.E. episode, Holling was the one who painted simply for the sheer pleasure of it.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Nancy Baker, aka Rebel Belle said...

The perfect painting is always the next one.

11:15 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Shan, I was also a great fan of Northern Exposure. My sister just recently visited the town where it was filmed.

Hey Belle, nice to have you over to my place. Yup, perfection is always just around the corner.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Globetrotter said...

First off, I'd like to say that I think your painting is wonderful, filled with vibrant color,yet also showing deep shadows. Just like our lives on earth, and your post said it all too well. We cannot grow without seeking perfection, though it can certainly never be reached in this life. But seeking to improve ourselves, whether through our art, our relationships, or our personal walk with our creator, is the only way we can continue to take one step after another and hold our heads up high.

This was a wonderful, thoughtful and insightful post. I do hope that you did not take any offence to my recent post about organic art. I was afraid people would do that. I simply feel that people who throw mud, paint and urine at a canvas and call it art are looking for a gimmicky way to obscure the fact that they are confused. By the way, I did an abstract today and threw kitty litter at it in the end. Nothing is wrong when it comes to art, but some things certainly don't make much sense.


4:41 PM  
Blogger Jonh Neo said...

Great Work!!!
this is a good link you can refer Art Collection

7:40 AM  
Blogger Quiltsong said...

I like this painting a lot. It reminds me of a photo I took a long time ago outside Yarnell,AZ. Your comments about moving forward and having to become off balance to do so were right on. If we're not changing, we're not growing. This is true of people as individuals as well as artists.
Best regards,

3:08 PM  
Blogger John Haynes said...

Hi Ed,

Very nice post. I think your professor was very wise -- I wonder how many got the lesson? The more I struggle with my own perfectionist tendencies I realize that more often than not they push me away from the important things and towards a false sense of security. Trying to tightly control the outcome, whether of a painting or anything else in life, tends to deny the messy spontaneity that's so necessary for growth, artistic or otherwise. The walking metaphor relates this beautifully, since it's really a messy action we control without giving it much though. Thanks for the wonderful post!

8:03 PM  

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