top of page

Perfection: a curse on the world of art

Image courtesy of Zach Dyson

Perfection. Something everyone strives to achieve, whether they know it or not. In athletics, in academics, in physical appearance. In art, perfection has been long debated. Is it technical, or does it rely on the expression of the piece?

Image courtesy of Amy-Leigh Barnard

In art, say if one wants to become a painter, they will likely take a class. They will paint in their free time and listen to the words of so-called masters to improve their skills. Say our artist hopes to become a painter who does hyper-realistic portraits. They will have to take hours and hours of classes on shading, color, dimensions of people, lighting, etc. This will be, for them, a road to perfection.

Say we have a second artist. This artist wants to paint as well but hopes to create abstract images, combining colors never seen together in the real world, creating shapes that convey emotions rather than physical form. This artist will take classes as well. These classes will be on things like what colors summon what emotions, what different shapes convey in the subconscious mind, etc. Another road to perfection.

These two styles of painting, hyperrealism and abstract, are so vastly different from one another, and yet the ideal of perfection encapsulates them both. In an ideal world, our amateur painters will both reach their final goal: being perfect at their art. But what does this mean? At what point can they rest and breathe; at what point will they be perfect?

Image courtesy of Steve Johnson

And although perfection seems such a distant future, especially to artists just beginning their journey into their own creative passions, it is achievable in one sense. In order to fully describe how to achieve perfection, the two types of perfection must be defined: objective and subjective.

Objective Perfection

In science, in math, or in other subjects of the correct-answer-correct-method genre, objective perfection is undeniably achievable. Two plus two equals four. This is correct, and so it is perfect. A perfect circle can be generated on a screen. A perfect formula in chemistry can flawlessly describe how water molecules are formed. This can be perfect, objectively perfect, because it can be fact.

In art, though, in something so heavily reliant on the human mind and spirit, objective perfection is but a dream. When it comes to something so difficult to describe as art, it is impossible to know where objective perfection falls. Without knowing how to get there, it is impossible to pursue this undeniable perfection.

Because we are such a divided species, in practically every way, it is impossible to find something we all agree on. Even fact is difficult to understand for some of us (see: the Earth is round), so something so experimental and emotional as art is going to be undeniably disagreed upon. Not everyone thinks the Mona Lisa is a beautiful painting. Not everyone believes that Edgar Allan Poe was a talented writer (shame on them). I guarantee that there is not a single piece of art that is appreciated by every living man in the world. And because of that, the only conclusion that can be drawn regarding objective perfection is its nonexistence. In art, it is nothing but a lie built to push every artist to strive to be better. “There is always room for improvement.” Maybe that is the case, but is it always right to improve? Maybe mediocrity can make an abstract painting beautiful.

The philosophy of pushing everyone to be better than what they are and what they’re already capable of is a concept in and of itself, and one for another time. So, the only thing to be said truly about objective perfection is that it should be ignored. Art should be for the artist and for no one else.