Many artists like to produce perfect artworks- that is understandable. They see beautiful works of art before them in museums, cities and in homes; and now in the media. So the quest for perfection is ‘even more in your face’- if your work is not perfect, perhaps you are not perfect. I have now heard from two artists who are suffering from depression and exhaustion, trying to be perfect, and trying to produce perfect pieces of art. There is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection
But there is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection. So cracks in pottery are filled with gold, literally emphasizing and embellishing the imperfection, instead of hiding it. The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is a beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’. It is quite like our physical selves- our bodies are not perfect but using clothes, shoes and make-up we make them look perfect. But the most memorable faces are those that highlight imperfection- such as David Bowie’s mismatched eyes. The actress Jennifer Grey who had her nose done, regretted it- she felt she had lost herself or her unique character.
These are two pieces of pottery that I found destined for the skip. The creator had discarded them in this bin in a pottery workshop.
I took them home and I have used them regularly for the last three years. They have not broken or cracked (and I have washed them in the dishwasher) and were perfect the way I have used them. As I use them, I thank the creator of these two pieces and sometimes feel sorry that in the quest for perfection, the artist threw away two little gems. I am pleased they came my way- each time I look at them, I think about the imperfection of life and how we can create value of each imperfection through acceptance, patience and love.
Jasper Johns, the ‘pop artist’, wrote about being an artist as opposed to ‘becoming one’. He said later of this resolve, ‘In the early fifties I was going to be an artist, and I thought,’Here I am. still going to be an artist. What was different? What needed to be changed, so I would be, rather than going to be?’ So he did two things- one, he destroyed previous works of art, almost to mark his resurrection as an artist and second, he painted the ‘Flag’- a modest piece of work that has become synonymous with Johns’ style. It was as if he had discovered himself and his true calling. Buddhists call this ‘throwing off the transient and revealing the true’.
Sometimes it takes some kind of dramatic life event for the person to do this, sometimes it is subtle. Nichiren, the Buddhist philosopher, was to be beheaded when he was dramatically saved and then after that, resolved to share his true self with others. Whatever the cause, the effect of this recognition of one’s true calling is huge and transformational. Mostly we are scared to reveal our true selves until something or someone forces us to. But why? Our true self is beautiful and creative, and yet we are afraid to show it. As Marianne Williamson said in her famous quote, ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.’
My resolve to be myself has been slowly building up since I had my stroke and as sometimes, strokes bring back early memories, I have been reflecting on the electrifying effect Johns’ works have had on me as a small child.This work is titled ‘not 1975’. It is a collage of ideas about fear and revelation. It came about as I reflected on several scraps of paper I had found and a significant year 1975 when I had been very ill. I already had the central group of children peering from inside the tree- an image compelling and disturbing- what were they looking at? So with this central image, I put a collage together along with paint scraping away and revealing and hiding things. This became my way of explaining a sense of who I was, and who I had become from where I was.