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This article is a discussion about perfection and imperfection in art, how they blend together and what is the illusion of creating the perfect art. I’ll explain the general concept of perfection which comes with its own pitfalls and freedoms. I share with you tips on how to achieve perfection in art but then perfection is just an illusion, it’s a mental concept relative to each one’s expectations and experiences.

Perfection is something that most humans are striving for in their profession and personal life. Everyone wants to reach the point of 100% great, not 95% or 50%. Any artist, professional, or junior aims to create the perfect artwork. But what does perfection look like? How do you make the perfect artwork? Is it possible to achieve perfection?

The oldest definition of “perfection”

Let me start by with the big questions, what is “perfection”? how do you make the “perfect” art?

A general definition of perfection is the flawless state where everything is just right. “Perfect” means without any kind of flaw and “perfection” is then the condition where everything is just 100% great.

The concept of “perfection” is being associated with the highest quality and degree of achievement, with high standards and complexity of execution. In other words, perfection is usually associated with “excellence”.

In fact, the concept of perfection, in general, exists way back. The world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and of course artists, they all looked for achieving perfection. They looked for the perfect number, perfect formula, perfect human body, or just the perfect painting.

The word “perfection” comes from Latin which means “to finish” or “to bring to an end” but the origin of the concept of “perfection” reaches back beyond Latins, to the Greeks.

The oldest definition of “perfection” goes back in ancient Greek to Aristotle. Aristotle defines 3-meanings of the term, or rather three layers, therefore perfection implies:

  1. is complete, it contains all the required parts.
  2. is good, nothing could be done better.
  3. it attained its purpose.

So when a thing is perfect, as Aristotle put it, is when it is complete (nothing to add or subtract) and it serves its purpose.

The absolute perfection

Can you define the perfect shape? the perfect color? the perfect light? the perfect texture? Or the perfect proportions? The list can go on, but you get the picture.

Creating art is not a technical process even though we use technical software with high complexity, it’s neither a mathematical calculator even though art can be done with mathematical precision however, then let’s not forget that art comes in many forms and styles.

So how do you make the “perfect artwork”? perfect illustration? perfect design? perfect concept?

The thing is that there’s only one absolute perfection that no one can argue, and that’s nature which surrounds us.

“The wisest and noble teacher is nature itself.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

In every art comes a point where we generally call it inspiration. Every artist or person wants to know how the inspiration is happening and how to kick in this state whenever he / she needs it. Then, nature has always been and it should be the inspiration to all artists. Any kind of art is inspired by nature, by its colors, forms, shapes, patterns, textures, light and shadows, and so on.

Image collage showing different types of lions, reflecting perfections vs imperfections

Art and nature are both like structures of incredible vastness. No one can accuse a cloud of its aesthetic mistakes, no one can argue a tree for its shapes and measurement. Then, no one can argue that a certain art style is better or “more perfect” than other styles.

There’s only one mechanism that works perfectly well. That’s “harmony”. Any complex scene has its own balance combining a variety of elements that just works well with each other.

The traps of perfection

A skillful artist creates on two levels and the result of this is basically the creation of the perfect artwork.

In other words, at the core of perfection is two levels of creation.

Level 1. Language of visual storytelling.

There’s a level where you must learn and practice the principles of art language (such as design rules, composition rules, animation principles, etc) since art is the visual language of storytelling. For an individual untrained in visual arts, it’s very difficult to create something visual because he/she never learned to read and think visually.

Level 2. Artistic maturity and purpose.

The same exact rules apply to all kinds of mediums and styles, and some styles bend the principles more than others, it pushes more than so-called “realistic feeling”. This adaptibility is something that grows in time, it’s the artistic maturity that gets built up in time through experimentation and practice.

However, perfection is just an illusion, it’s just a mental concept relative to each one’s expectations and experience. There are these side effects on both levels, so here what usually happens.

  • Trap 1. you consider yourself Good Enough therefore you achieve your so-called perfection with no real progression.
  • Trap 2. you consider yourself a Perfectionist and you become stuck in so-called details.

Here is what I mean exactly.

Trap nr 1. You are Good-Enough but you achieve the so-called perfection with no real progress. 

Once you know the principles you get the overall image of the entire game since you acquired some practical skills. There are rewards and satisfaction in your work since you’re comfortable with doing the same type of projects, the same type of difficulty level, using the same type of tools.

At this point, it really means that you are under the perception of perfection by repeating the same thing all over again.

You are under the illusion of perfection because you don’t actually challenge your creativity, technical skills, and probably not even the self-management skills either.

You don’t achieve so-called perfection because there’s no progress, instead, you’re limiting yourself by being on an autopilot mode of creation.

Trap nr 2. You are a Perfectionist but you get stuck in so-called details. 

Let’s say you are on Level 2, you can now handle pretty well the tools, the principles, you do challenge yourself, and you’re really focused on creating high-quality work.

But then somehow, these high standards take you quite some time and it’s getting harder in reaching your goals. It’s hard to make decisions so you get stuck on specific details, you may even get stuck on order and organization and this may lead to stress and to procrastination.

You are under the illusion of perfection since you can’t really balance so-called perfection with self-management.

Unfortunately, you don’t create the perfect artwork but you create with fear-based thinking on the thought of perfection. In fact, this is actually a fear of perfection.

As you can see, perfectionism is driven by striving for excellence, but it can be self-sabotaging by generating the fear of not being just perfectly good. Then, the good-enough state is also sabotaging your progress since you’re just avoiding the new challenges.

Ten tips for creating “perfect imperfections”

The thing is that there’s this wrong belief system about making perfect art and if you can drop this stiff belief system that is sabotaging your creative process, you’ll then feel “confident” in your “perfection”.

So here are some negative thoughts about perfection.

  • Perfect art is obtained through complex techniques.
  • Perfect art implies symmetry of forms and proportions.
  • Perfect art implies only realistic styles.
  • Perfect art requires an extraordinary amount of time in making it.
  • Perfect art is unique, no one has made something similar before.
  • Perfect art is made only by veteran artists with many years of experience.
  • Perfect art needs to be achieved with every piece of art that you’re making.

Just like nature which by default is perfect, perfect art is a composition created with diverse and contrasting elements. It brings harmony between the contrasting parts and puts them into a believable scene.

A perfect art is created through something like a framework of balance, in which there are imperfect and asymmetric elements but they work good together.

Two versions of the same painting, with and without imperfections

Here’s my top 10 advice on adding imperfections in order to create perfection. I know, it does sound like a paradox but … perfection needs imperfection.

  1. Avoid regularity of forms, but instead conceptualize in 4 main forms (sphere, cube, pyramid, and cylinder) and experiment with their own deformations and combinations.
  2. Avoid symmetry in proportions, but instead visualize 3 main sizes (small, medium, large) and experiment with the relationship between sizes.
  3. Avoid repetition in placement, but instead, create various spacing from narrow to wide spaces.
  4. Avoid symmetry in the relationship between volume and weight, a small object can be small and heavy, and a large object can light.
  5. Avoid even-timing in motion, but instead, create uneven rhythmic motion with accelerations and decelerations periods.
  6. Avoid regular patterns and textures, but instead add subtle irregularities such as stain, dirt, scratch, hole, patch.
  7. Avoid parallelism in terms of horizontal and vertical alignment, but instead push the angle of view so it looks more dynamic, slightly upwards, or downwards.
  8. Avoid frontal positions, but instead, position your character so that the entire body weight shifts more to one side.
  9. Avoid closed postures or avoid having a character with straight arms close to the body, but instead, create negative space between arms and torso for a better silhouette.
  10. Avoid facial symmetry, but instead create subtle asymmetry between the left and right side of any facial expression, including eyebrows, eyes, and mouth.

Takeaway

The word “perfect” holds some pitfalls because the criteria of perfection are purely relative. It implies that something complete is beyond any change or beyond any further creativity or development.

As hard as it may sound, perfection is just a self-image, a combination of personal expectations and knowledge over the subject and skills. And of course, there’s also the desire or energy that it’s unique to each one of us.

Perfection is progress! Artmaking just as life, is constant learning, it’s a constant growth, and you need to just keep creating on a consistent basis to allow this growth to take place, to allow learning to keep coming in.

If you don’t have too many rigid ideas of perfection you’ll realize that at any point in your artistic journey, your capacity for creating art it’s relative at that particular moment, both creatively and technically.

So it’s fair to say about perfection and art-making that happens on multiple layers.

  • Perfection is a balance and harmony between goals and skills.
  • Perfection is unique to each individual, it depends on each one’s expectations.
  • Perfection uses individual imperfections but put together it all works perfectly well.
  • Perfection grows in time through a progressive process, the same perspective may look different to you at a later time.

Bottom line, whatever you are creating just do it more because practice makes it perfect. You are training yourself in this process.

The more you grow as a person, the more you grow as an artist, and then, the more you create with high degrees of creativity and complexity. This is perfection!

Your job as an artist is to keep on growing your perfection. Perfection is not built in a week or month, but instead little by little, every day because it’s a journey into personal progression.

Showing 6 different styles of a lion character ... Which one of the 6 lions is Perfect?
Cristina Zoica Dumitru

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

I teach digital art courses online and on-location. My mission is to challenge students to reach their maximum potential for creativity and authenticity.

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