Embracing the imperfect in art

Last week I was listening to a fascinating podcast hosted by Ken Goshen (link below). He was interviewing Will St. John who is a brilliant contemporary painter. At around the 55 minute mark they started to discourse around the subject of perfection in art and how, at times, the artist can almost overwork their paintings to achieve perfection and in doing so lose some of the vitality that is found in their sketches. 

Of course both Ken Goshen and Will St. John are phenomenal artists and I think, in part, it's through confidence in their skill that artists can decide not to be overly refined in their painting. But how does that confidence happen? Through training and practice. Will, from his place of artistic brilliance, can choose the beauty of imperfection, saying, "it's not sexy...it's not cool." He describes how, "we can become overly refined people....so overly refined that you are constricted." Will's comments strike me deeply because he is commenting on the freedom of spirit that brings life to whatever we do, one which is not constricted by performance or fear of failure.  

I think what he shares mostly applies when you are a master artist who understands his craft to such a deep degree that his soul can start to pour out on the canvas. I have experienced this in the arena of music. When I was able to play a piece of music with such skill, then, and only then, could more of me enter into the moment and the performance could transcend beyond simply pressing on piano keys. As an artist I have yet to feel this pleasure. More practice is required - the pursuit of perfection in the knowledge that, once achieved, I could choose imperfection and authenticity and therefore produce art that truly speaks.

When I run through the works of art in my mind that have resonated with me on a heart level it's because they have this quality of vulnerability - exposure of the true self. I'm not totally sure how an artist paints their authentic self onto a canvas but for me that is part of what makes art come to life. I stood in front of a painting by Monet in Denver Art Museum and found myself almost touching the heart of the artist himself. I gazed at a sculpture in the Barbara Hepworth Museum in St. Ives and tears came to my eyes as I felt her emotion carved across the wood. I could continue to describe the almost spiritual moments that I have had contemplating certain works of art. My point is, art, good art, is not just technically excellent, it also has a quality to it that speaks a deeper message, one that might feel almost intangible or hard to define. 

As artists, we need the skills and training to create something that is almost perfect, and yet we need to know how to combine that with our authentic self to paint with courageous vulnerability. I'm a long way off but it's something beautiful to aspire to!

And I'll sign off with this incredible painting by Will St. John. His skin tones are just out of this world. 

Painting by Will St. John     

Podcast: Art's Cool with Ken Goshen

Why Baroque Masters are Cooler. Will St. John



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