We are obsessive problem solvers. When we see something imperfect, our perception wants to figure out what is going on — we get curious. On the other hand, when something is too irregular or “crappy” we ignore it as irrelevant noise.
Triggering curiosity is one thing… but what is it that makes imperfections beautiful?
The Difference between Perfection and Mastery
You might have read the famous story by Giorgio Vasari about Giotto, an early Renaissance painter. In this story Giotto was asked to prove his mastery in painting. He did so by drawing a perfect circle without the use of any technical instruments but his brush. Unfortunately I wasn’t present myself, but my guess is that Giotto’s circle was not perfect but masterful. To explain the difference between the two I am going to show you how good — or bad — I am at drawing:
As you can see my drawing is far from perfect. The red area shows you how much my circle differs from the perfect circle drawn by a software. It illustrates the tension between goal and achievement. Mastery is the strive to make this area disappear. And Giotto’s (red area) was probably a lot smaller than mine.
Mastery is not perfection, it is the pursuit of perfection.
One thing that makes hand drawings exciting: the struggle
Sports events are exciting because of the mistakes, the slips, the trips, the mishaps — and the struggle to avoid them. The drama of athletes serves as a metaphor for the personal struggles in our lives, the tension between our goals and our actual accomplishments. To watch an athlete perform flawlessly is nice, but to watch him fight the odds is exciting.
Now my guess is that a similar kind of struggle can be witnessed in hand drawings. What makes them “alive”, “charming” or “personal” is not necessarily the unique “style” of the author, his personal “expression”. It is his struggle for perfection. Watching somebody draw can sometimes reveal that struggle. Artists and Designers often hide this process and only show the shiny results of their efforts. But in a world of perfect shiny products the imperfection of the process can be exactly what makes your work exciting for your audience. It makes the work appear human (in the best sense of the word) and thus: beautiful.
We love to see the process, not just the result. The imperfections in your work can be beautiful if they show your struggle for perfection, not a lack of care.
It’s never good enough — live with it!
Many creatives know this nagging voice in their heads while they are working on something. This voice will carefully point out all the flaws and mistakes in your work even before it is finished. Whenever I make a drawing that voice always — ALWAYS — convinces me that this is the worst I have ever done in my life. Ever. I see the faulty perspective, the wrong proportions, the crooked lines… it is all very dramatic. Imagine my relief when I realised that these mistakes can actually appeal to the viewers because they can participate in my struggle! Following the ideas of Wabi Sabi I have made it a habit to embrace those imperfections, they have become part of my work.
In our pursuit for mastery we have to learn how to live with imperfections, with this tension between our goals and what we actually accomplish. Just like we all know this article could have been written much better. But it is the best I can do. So we have to live with what is right here right now.
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