“Is this piece perfect?”
This is a question people sometimes ask me when looking at one of my glass sculptures, vases, or bowls.
I think I was most surprised the first time someone asked me that. I felt a little defensive… not because the piece was defective in any way, but because I didn’t have a good answer.
Was it perfect in its artistic achievement?
I figured the person asking the question probably wondered if I considered it perfect in every way – in shape, form, and artistic goal realized. Either that or maybe they were hoping to fly it to the moon. After all, I thought to myself they should decide if they felt whether or not it was “perfect” in their eyes.
Later, I thought more about that question and wondered if I actually ever made something that was “perfect”. I came to the conclusion I had never made something that was truly perfect.
The nirvana of perfection
Moments that have the feel of perfection being realized, are usually fleeting… whether it happens the next day or a year later, perfection usually vanishes.
That is when the warts begin to reveal themselves and I quickly find myself in the “what do I wish was different” mode of action. Sometimes I know exactly what to do to make an improvement, and sometimes I can’t put my finger on what needs to be done differently.
Ironically, the greatest frustration happens when the so-called improvements don’t really improve anything.
How do you know something is done?
Back in art school, I had a painting instructor who was well known and said to have taught Andy Warhol for a couple of classes. Someone in my class asked the instructor, “How do you know when a painting is done?”
The instructor answered without missing a beat, as if he had answered it many times before. He said, “If anything else you do isn’t going to improve it, then it is done.”
Is “done” the same as “perfect”?
Looking back, I don’t think the instructor thought “done” meant it was “perfectly done” or “done perfectly”… no; I think he meant that it is just plain done… time to move on, because the painting has reached its saturation level of doneness.
But just because something may be considered done doesn’t mean that it is perfect.
Because nothing in our world is ever absolutely perfect. That doesn’t mean something isn’t good or even great – it just means absolute perfection is unattainable.
The unattainable perfection
This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. The drive for perfection is what keeps the world moving forward. It is the desire to make something better that often drives people, whether in art, science, or almost all aspects of our lives.
So…”Is this piece perfect?”
Years later, I was asked that question again by a gentleman interested in my work. The gentleman asked, “Is this piece perfect?”
I replied with a short sweet confident response, “I have never made a perfect piece.”
The gentleman paused, then smiled and said, “Good answer.”
By Bernard Katz