When making art, or actually making anything at all, we want to be able to say, “this is IT!” We want the piece to be finished and finished well. We want to say, “This is the piece, the masterpiece!” We want it to be the climax. The problem with this thinking is that were it comes to creating there is no one ultimate. There is no perfection. There is no climax, no top of the hill. There is no “IT”.
While it would be easy to find this discouraging, it really is a logical conclusion if you want to be an artist, or do anything you do, with sanity. One problem with “IT” thinking is what happens after “IT” is created. You have just created the piece, you have achieved perfection, you have reached the climax…then what. From on top of the mountain there is no where to go but down.
There is also the issue of actually defining “IT” when you are working in subjective disciplines such as art. What is perfect? What is the ultimate? Bowlers can bowl a 300 game. But, artists? Perfectionists often struggle mightily as artists for they can never be fully sated. In seeking satisfaction, perfectionists often fail to finish work, and later fail to start it at all.
So what is one to do? Here I am speaking to perfectionists like me? How do you actually finish the work knowing that it will always fall short? My path forward has been learning, and relearning, to exchange “IT” for “ITERATIONS”. “IT” living is about achieving perfection. “ITERATION” living is about moving towards perfection. “IT” is about the destination. “ITERATION” is about the journey.
In my life, perfection is like a gravitational force that I always have to be aware of. At times it keeps me grounded. I do good work. People can trust me when they hire me or purchase something from me. But, at times that gravitational force turns into a black hole. I work longer than I should on something to get it right. It can cause me to miss deadlines. I can cause me to feel like I failed or cheated someone even when they are completely satisfied.
However, when I stop thinking about “perfection” and “IT”, and instead just see what I am working on as the latest “ITERATION” of my work, I can let go. I can move on. I can deliver pieces on time even though I feel I could have done more. The fact is that if the client is not satisfied I know I will be able to work with them to make it right. But, in over 35 years creating things, I cannot remember having something rejected or returned by a client.
When I think of it, this all makes sense. What perfection was for me at 20 is different than it was at 30, 40 and now in my 50s. I look at earlier work and see things I would change, or have done differently or better. It is not through creating perfection that we change, but it is through changing that we move towards perfection.
To put it another way, only through many “ITERATIONS” of our work do we move closer to “IT”…even though “IT” probably does not exist in art.