Wednesday, July 20, 2011

perfection is torture

Lately I've been noticing how much I clench my jaw. I'm not sure that this is a new habit, or something I've always done, but every time I catch myself doing it, I unclench and try to loosen up my face. Now that I'm 40 I'm starting to worry about losing my youthful freshness and I don't want to be one of those people with a permanent scowl. While I'm working on my clenching, I'm also starting to change my attitude toward perfection. Somehow these two things go together in my mind, so stay with me.

Artists are tortured souls because we torture ourselves, in very specific ways that cut us the most deeply. I have many ways of torturing myself, but one of my favorite ways is by pushing myself to create "perfect" pieces. No cracks, no glaze crawls, no pinholes, no runs, no awkward lines, no bumps, no uneveness... you get the picture. It is a severe kind of torture, punishing and unsympathetic.

When I buy pottery, I'm not looking for "perfection" in the terms I've enumerated above, I'm looking for a piece I love. The things I may consider imperfections were it my own work is stuff that I may not even notice on other people's work. One of my favorite Diana Fayt pieces in my collection is a vase where some of the glaze popped off, creating a chipped looking surface around the bottom. Do I care? Not at all, in fact I love it. It does nothing to take away from the design, or the shape of the piece, which is perfect.

A few weeks ago I had an order for one of the dreaded bird cake stands, in all white. White is the most challenging for me because I have this big piece with a large surface area, and I want it to be smooth and perfect. The piece came out with what looked like a dirty smudge on the surface. I have no idea what it was. I took images of it, sent it to the customer who shrugged it off, took 20% off, sent it out. I heard from the customer later who said he and his wife inspected the piece for a while and could not figure out what the hell I was talking about. I was like, "I'm talking about that smudge, on the surface." It blew my mind that they could not see it.

I've started running a side experiment, where I'm marking what I would usually consider "seconds" at the usual price at my studio and shows and seeing if people bite. And they do. They pick up the piece, inspect it while I sit on my hand to prevent myself from from showing them how the piece is fucked up, and they buy it. That blows my mind too.

I'm starting to think that for me to learn anything, my head has to explode so the new information can get through my shattered skull to my brain. And when I figure something out, I tend to go to extremes with it, so if you get a piece from me with a big crack through it or a chipped foot, take solace in the fact that you are helping me get over being perfect.