The beauty of imperfection

The Beauty of Imperfection. I learnt something today. Every day is a school day, but suddenly it made sense - of what I try to do. It is something that gets lost in the glossy slick of cool art that spreads like a contagion: photo-based, photo-shopped, photo-realist, minimalism, film/video, conceptual and/or installations, not excluding all that relies on novelty. It might or might not be art, but is it enough just to say ‘contemporary’ or ‘original’? as justification; art with a shiny face, which values presentation and technique more than substance; or just a show that relies on cleverness and trumpets this.

There is so much trickery, and, yes, it is often very good (all the best tricks are of course or they wouldn’t be tricks) - it is how tricksy folk manipulate us.

I saw the French film about Pierre-Auguste Renoir last night, and although I thought it lost its way and got stuck with his son Jean's love affair with the old painter's model, Renoir said a thing which stuck with me: "Art is about making something with your hands that lasts for ever."

So, what was it that made such sublime sense...

...The Japanese art of repairing broken pots, and thereby making them even more alluring by a process called Kintsugi (‘golden joinery’, It develops the beauty of flaws and scars and the tale they tell. [Samurai would display their battle wounds for much the same reason]

Nothing can be perfect or even aspire to it. Least of all in art and science, because it's a never-ending story. Science and art are merely a stage we are at any one time, but if one thing doesn't connect to another there is no continuity and things exist in isolation.

All the while I was doing science, I was fascinated and intrigued by Fine Art, especially painting. In science you create a hypothesis, and then try to disprove it. If you fail, the hypothesis can be accepted. It is how good research science proceeds. In art I was also unwittingly following the trail of imperfection. Finding beauty in the faults – since they lead to truth. I didn’t know why but I wanted to shout “You are fooling yourself!” at those who preferred the slick and the unctuous, the easy answer; at those who were trying to prove their hypothesis rather than disprove it.

How much better a title “The Beauty of Imperfection” would be for my exhibition (“The Constructed Female”) at The Plough Arts Centre in November, because that is exactly what it’s about: our attempt to assuage imperfection (as we perceive it) that influences the quest for self-improvement. It is a futile but wonderful quest.

Painting is the ancient medium and the modern message. No matter the reward, I won’t produce slick and tidy work that tries to trick the eye (trompe l’oeil) and/or be something it isn’t. Nice and shiny and smooth things are often deceptive. For me real visual art is about messy thick smelly textural oil paint on good wholesome organic canvas, old doors, wood or cardboard. I glory in a sequence that dates back 35,000 years. Frank Auerbach said “There are too many pictures in the world”. He is right; there are too many pictures, but not enough, it seems to me, paintings.

My 'ambition', if such it is, is to encourage those who cannot or will not get beyond a surface into seeing and feeling much more.

Some might regard my work as traditional (in a bad way) or non-contemporary. So be it. But I will protest, for my method is truly contemporary; developed over 30 years of empiricism, of trial and error, often with homemade tools, with edges left unpainted and raw - the work’s own signature. Framed, if at all, in simple non-expensive wood, or frames rescued from god know where but always essentially unpretentious. So, let’s exchange work, sell it cheaply, and give it away to anyone who appreciates The Beauty of the Imperfect. Thereby it lives.

Above all, let life not defeat us, that is the job of death.

- 14 September 2017 at 12:51pm

I most wholeheartedly agree. My favorite sculpture is Rodin's La Belle Houmierre (spelling?) because she is a woman of a certain age, with lumps and wrinkles, and the sagging belly of a woman who has born many a child, and she is BEAUTIFUL for all her scars and 'imperfections." Perfection is rare, but no more, and perhaps even less precious than imperfection in my opinion.
Malcolm Herbert
- 14 September 2017 at 12:51pm

Wasn't it Andy Warhol who said, 'Art is what you can get away with'
- 14 September 2017 at 12:51pm

Good call Cat, I love it - all Rodin's work. There's something made with hands which will last forever.
I believe you're exactly right Malcolm. Damien Hirst originally said he wanted to make bad art and get away with it. Jackson Pollock transformed bad art into fantastic art by an effort of will and hard work.
- 14 September 2017 at 12:52pm

I agree. I am appalled by the amount of carelessly thrown together sculptures and paintings that are called art. I'd be amused if it didn't annoy me so much when people take obvious trash for art. I think it's even worse if so called artists do it knowingly. I do appreciate that it is possible to look at an unusual piece of wood or some strangely juxtaposed naturally occurring stuff and be able to say aaaaah! Isn't that beautiful or unusual or doesn't that make you think but it is stealing for someone to take those components and pass them off as their own creation. Sorry I'm going down a bunny trail again. trying to understand the evil men and women do in the name of art. I feel so sad that artists like you take care to put their heart and soul and inner thoughts onto canvas only to be upped by a charlatan.
- 14 September 2017 at 12:52pm

I hate to say "Emperor's New Clothes" but you have to ask, as Renoir did, if it isn't capable of lasting forever, very importantly - in actuality or in its spirit or if its message isn't a true and genuine aspect of our time, is art at all? If not, then it is merely novelty and deserves deep suspicion. If it is art, then is it any good? To answer that, you are your own judge. Brian Sewell once said, "If you tell me its art, then I'll assess it as art (I'm not sure if he added, "but it had better be good", if he didn't, he should have!).
- 14 September 2017 at 12:52pm

Art has to last for ever? No, of course not. Think of Andy Goldsworthy - or any live performance - theatre, ballet, opera. they can't last. And I am perfectly happy with the installation or other temporary piece. I can think of quite a lot of stuff that's been good but the materials weren't made to survive: Leonardo's Last Supper to a friend's 1960s works which incorporated dishcloths and plaster and (since he was sold by a smart Cork St gallery) got send back by customers a few years later because they had begun to disintegrate. didn't stop them being art, did mean they weren't a good long-term investment. But art should be about communication or beauty (not necessarily both) not money.
For me art is something you make yourself, usually but not necessarily with your hands.

A machine that creates lovely or exiting things could create art. Technis is the old Greek word after all.
that same artist friend devised ameans of projecting light through a prism onto a curved surfact that created wonderful images like pictures made by cigarette smoke and coloured light. they were random but also meticulously crafted.

The old master's often had plenty of help in their studios so I'm not sure about always being your own work. If a joint effort the artists should share the credit. But again the art is the finished product whoever is involved in making it. You can go on arguing over who can claim to be an artist! Selecting a piece of driftwood and giving it a name requries an artist's eye and surely Picasso's bicycle handlebar bull or Duchamp's fountain) surely have to be accepted.
- 14 September 2017 at 12:52pm

Very interesting Howard, and thank you for contributing to something that’s very important to me. You are perfectly right in what you say. Perhaps I should make it more clear here that I use the noun Art as meaning principally visual art, or gallery art, if you prefer, not the whole of the creative world. I would never I hope be so over-bearing; painting is quite enough for my untrained mind! This was in any event a comment attributed to Renoir and made long before modern technology got in on the act.

You mention art in connection with “technis” but Socrates ascribed techne only to its use in the context of epistēmē (knowing how to do something in a craft-like way). Craft-like knowledge is called a technê - most useful when the knowledge is practically applied, rather than theoretically or aesthetically applied. For the ancient Greeks, when technê appears as art, it is most often viewed negatively, whereas when used as a craft it is viewed positively because a craft is the practical application of an art, rather than art as an end in itself. [I got this from Wikipedia].

But, since you bring it up, and it is of course of abiding interest, I would like to comment on your points. Firstly, Leonardo made a technical mistake, didn’t he, on The Last Supper, it was not meant to disintegrate. Funnily enough, the decay now seems to add to the beauty, and here then is a super example of the beauty of imperfection.

Dishcloths and other 'wonderful images' as I implied "might or might not be art", but I would never argue about craft. But one could argue that a live performance isn't the original art since it is usually a reproduction, be it of a musical score, ballet choreography, a script, a director's vision etc, therefore it is epistēmē. Of course this doesn't mean it can't be artistic and beautifully executed and crafted.

We must be careful about calling anything good and striking 'Art'. It’s a word, like ‘genius’ that has become severely diminished by over use, and I don’t like to hear anyone call themself an Artist. I feel it should an accolade awarded by others. So I could never accept that a machine could be an artist, for it is a quintessentially human activity.

But if theatre and ballet are art formed of a communal activity, then we can't deny a great master having technicians in his studio too. Is it not the artist’s vision that elevates him or her? You are not suggesting that Duchamp actually made his urinal! Picasso was without doubt a great artist, which is incontrovertible; he was also a great joker!

As I see it, when great and perceptive vision is ignited by sublime inspiration and produced magnificently by the artist’s own hands (eg. Leonardo; The Last Supper notwithstanding!) then I feel we truly have art and genius. I'd be intrigued to continue this conversation, if you, or anyone else, has a mind to; it’s fascinating.
- 14 September 2017 at 12:53pm

Interesting to read your blog especially your views on conceptual art. I do want to discover what floats their boats with the strange installations that I have seen (especially at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham - downright insulting to the viewer, I thought, but maybe that is the reason!).

Is it to gain a reaction good/bad/controversial or to show how far away from traditional art it is possible to get?
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