The Perfect Vs. The Real Artworks are just series of compromises

Working on the composition of a recent painting.
Working on the composition of a recent painting.

It doesn’t sound lofty or romantic, but in reality every work of art is a just series of compromises.

Compromises with the materials, with the inspiration, with one’s own ability.

But especially, compromises between the ideal of perfection and what is actually possible in this less than perfect world.

I encountered some of that this week as I was setting up my newest painting (see the studio image below).

Rather than ignoring – or even suppressing – the thoughts as I normally might, I brought it to the forefront of my mind, and paid careful attention to what I was experiencing and thinking.

A view of the setup for a recent painting
A view of the setup for a recent painting

Preparing a setup for a painting can be the most finicky and convoluted part of the process.

Hours – even days – go by minutely adjusting the positions of things, substituting and replacing elements – sometimes even completely changing the whole composition.

At a certain point it becomes like scrolling on social media – scroll down, read the next post, scroll down, read the next post, scroll down… and pretty soon the day is lost.

I spent the best part of Monday setting up the arrangement for this week’s painting. By late afternoon, I had a design I was relatively happy with.

As I studied it some more, though, I started to think about ways the light source could be different, and was about to reach up and change the direction of the light.

And then I had a very strong reaction.

“No”, my conscience said – “There is the seed of a perfectly good painting here. Believe in what you have, commit to it fully, and get to work”.

And so I did.

A view of the setup for a recent painting
A view of the setup for a recent painting

Funny thing is – I find that when I am decisive at this stage of the process, the finished work is simply better – in almost every way.

There is a strength and energy that flows from that decision – I always notice it immediately, and it usually carries me through to the end of the painting.

There is immense value in fully committing to an idea, and above all, completely believing in it.

In fact, I don’t think you can make a good work of art without that strong bedrock of belief.

Without it, no matter how beautiful, interesting, and technically accomplished the work turns out, something will still be missing – the heart and soul.

With it, all difficulties and limitations can be overcome – and even in the most modest of ways, the voice of Nature itself can flow through the paintbrush.

A view of the setup for a recent painting
A view of the setup for a recent painting

With this painting I complelled myself to stop fiddling, commit to the idea as it was in front of me, and and believe in it wholeheartedly.

Could it have been a better painting?

Yes, in a thousand ways.

But without unshakable belief and commitment (and subsequent days of hard work), it would be nothing more than an idea floating around in my head – utterly useless to me – and more importantly to anybody who might enjoy the finished painting.

Chasing perfection is a dysfuntional doom loop, where nothing is accomplished until one makes that all-important compromise with reality.

And that is a compromise I am willing make again and again and again.