I consider myself a perfectionist. At face value, that is something to be proud of — to take pride in your work. But there are always hidden implications, and honestly these are extremely fatiguing. I needed a cure for all the second-guessing. And then I found not one, but three.
Perfection is a nice sentiment. To the sentimental then, perfectionism is not so much a dreaded taskmaster as it is a demanding friend. Artist and friend together, they embody a primal wish, a singular will to transcend.
Because perfection is a fleeting vision, a glimpse into what could be. Purpose fuels your effort and, perfection is when that purpose is fulfilled elegantly. Your desires and expectations condensed into an alternate reality.
Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a neurosis. To disregard the reality of infinitesimal probabilities must mean something is amiss. But what joy I ask you, is there in mediocrity, the possibility of having nothing of value to reminisce?
In that sense, perfectionism is about distilling human expression. When your only calling is to impress, to invoke collective frisson. Your work (noun and verb) becomes an artform, the same way a Japanese tea ceremony is a performance.
What causes the greatest anguish is that perfection is not a checklist of prerequisites and conditions, it’s too fuzzy. Perhaps that fuzziness is part freeing, part uneasy. But to realise even your greatest work will remain a prototype, that is an exquisite unbearable agony.
Myself, I search for a salve to ease the pain. See, the notion of perfection is addictive, it’s impossible to abstain. Maybe if achieving it wasn’t so open-ended, I could be challenged, be unrewarded and still stay sane.
While the purist might argue that perfectionism should trickle into everything we do, that’s unrealistic and besides, there’s almost always a source from which reverence originally grew. Denial would simply be untrue.
But what if that’s the problem with perfectionism? Unconsciously framing every endeavour in terms of that one original passion isn’t wisdom in action. Would it be fair, does it even make sense, you think?
Why must we fixate on a singular ideal vision? Aren’t we closing ourselves to equivalent (or superior) forms of expression? There are as many paths as there are arts to achieve perfection.
An answer is what I desperately seek. To a sentimentalist, only a complementary sentiment would be received as elegant and cosy. And so, I set off searching the deep self for a primordial story.
I ponder composing and writing, martial arts and dancing. Or any other skill you hold in highest esteem, a fall from whose peak would be damning. The mythical summit rarely glimpsed, but too often veiled behind clouds of doubt – more’s the pity!
Every student begins his worship with tedium and repetition. Not unlike learning a language, a new alphabet letter by letter, till it leaves a deep impression. Until it becomes second nature, one of instinct and hunch.
To the warrior, training would be an alphabet of muscle memory and reflexes. Each motion a word, complex moving hieroglyphs. It follows then that every duel is in fact poetry in motion, an interpretive dance of rage and risk.
After all, any barbarian can throw a punch. But it takes a master to speak the language of violence – to debate with parry and lunge. Or even to say a marksman plays with the echoes of drawn bows wouldn’t be too much.
So it is with music too, from reading notation to composing. A language of edible colours and flavours, what else but the art of cooking. The primal expression of body language with evocative dancing.
Every skill is a language, do you see? And just as the loftiest display of linguistic virtuosity is poetry, perfection too can aspire to a form so refined, I decree.
Finally, the clouds obscuring the pinnacles of achievement can be dispersed and dispelled. The artist is tormented no longer – for his frustration, a death knell. Three torches are afforded the pilgrim on the path; three realisations with which darkness and doubt are rightly quelled.
That perfection doesn’t exist independent of the artist. That perfectionism shouldn’t obsess over a singularity but instead, harvest every poetic permutation of stardust. And that the highest expression of art is the poetry of its own language. These truths will take the artist the farthest.