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September 14, 2017


Reading this post, the line that leaps out at me is "they work at their art with dedication and joy all their lives." That's how I want to be.

Oh, Beth. So much here that resonates. First, I am really amazed you put me in "artist knitter" category, and gratified, but I think I have never completed any knitting project -- 225 at last count -- that didn't have at least one mistake. (I will own the charge of audacity, proudly, but I'm a sloppy knitter; at least now I don't mind ripping 30 rows to fix something egregious.) Second, I am just now taking a digital illustration class (I am a whiz at InDesign but never really mastered Illustrator). There's one required text, Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips -- "In a world where almost every designer has instant access to vast image databases and online search sites, there is little wonder why the landscape of contemporary graphic design is mired in mediocre solutions that capitalize on convenience." This was me. This is what I had become, as a designer. So glad I got out, and am pushing myself in all kinds of new ways. Persistence: underrated, so important.

Dear Beth, first of all: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Hope I've got the right day and that it's a lovely one for you, in every conceivable and inconceivable way.

Your consistent and lucid perfectionism has always been evident in every aspect of your personality but it's lightened with humour and grace. When I undertake something, whether artwork or other creative task, I also have my nose pressed close to the grindstone and won't move off un! Thanks for all your good thoughts and enjoy a carefree day. Much love xxx

A beautiful piece Beth that really resonated with me. Much to reflect upon - many thanks…..

I wrote the following piece for New Vision last year. I’m posting it here because I couldn’t resist the connection between the carpet weaver that I mention and your piece about being a knitter…..


“Perfectionism doesn't believe in practice shots. It doesn't believe in improvement. Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly and that if we allow ourselves to do something badly we might in time become quite good at it. Perfectionism measures our beginner's work against the finished work of masters. Perfectionism thrives on comparison and competition. It doesn't know how to say, ‘Good try,’ or ‘Job well done.’ The critic does not believe in creative glee or any glee at all, for that matter. No, perfectionism is a serious matter.”
Julia Cameron

I have always thought of myself as something of a perfectionist, someone who wants to achieve his best no matter what. Reaching out to attain a ‘ high bar ‘ mark, an idealized notion of excellence. And for years I pursued this unrealistic approach to life - although never, ever having attained it - until a tutor said to me once, at art college:
“ Give yourself permission to undertake bad work.” This startled me at the time and made me think more deeply about this issue. In a painting context, he was saying let go of all the striving, the struggling to realize some idealized standard and just surrender to the process, let the painting take you where it wants to go. This felt, for me, somehow counterintuitive, going against the grain of all that I thought about regarding taking control, deliberate intention, setting ‘ standards,’ etc. Yes, all elements of perfectionism. But the tutor’s suggestion of letting go, the ‘Tao of painting ‘ did impact on me at a much deeper level, and it later helped considerably in my work.

Giving yourself scope to explore - especially with no set agenda that perfectionism dictates - is wonderfully liberating. It allows you to achieve somewhat surprising results from which you can learn and develop – stepping stones to a slow build-up of an alternative path – one of real authenticity. Perfectionism is about controlling, it’s about forcing unrealistic targets and standards on us that are difficult, if not impossible to attain. It inhibits and restricts us from accepting ‘ imperfect ‘ results which are actually ‘ good ‘ results if only we accept them with graciousness as markers to something better – part of our journey to self-improvement.

In Islam there is a beautiful tale about a master carpet weaver……
After many, many years of disciplined practice in his small studio he finally attempted to make the perfect carpet - his piece de resistance, his opus magnum. Through a lifetime of dedicated workmanship he felt he had acquired sufficient skills to accomplish the task. Everything was set up and with a great deal of concentrated effort the weaver started. Eventually, his work was nearing completion and he felt, within his heart that he was indeed just about to complete the perfect carpet. It was magnificently woven with not one single thread out of place. Every fine pattern was delicately stitched with perfect symmetry, balance and colour harmony. When he reflected on his workmanship, the miracle of how it all came together he became surprisingly uneasy about his triumphal achievement. As he made the last few stitches on the carpet he decided to miss- sow them saying: “ Only Allah is perfect.”

Trying to slavishly achieve perfection often reflects a false, fierce pride which is a distortion of our true, inner self. Sometimes being ‘ just ‘ OK is really OK. It’s an implicit acknowledgement of our human frailties and limitations which can prevent us from feeling ‘ superior, ‘ ‘ better, ‘ ‘ special.’ To me, the acceptance of imperfection is perfection – a grounded space where humility and grace can make an appearance saying that if we are indeed perfect then it is in our human imperfections. The universe and all the natural laws around us, in all their full and glorious splendour may be considered perfect but we are not, and we do need to recognize this reality ( which I’m certain we all do ). We are still ‘ work in progress, ‘ a human race that still has still much more to learn regarding so many things but in this imperfection of ours we can still shine, we can still work to make the world a better, fairer, more just place……

“There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.”
Shannon L Alder

The prominence of mastery and and the relative lack of appreciation for the amateur is a mirror of our culture. I have long tried to fully realize the talent I have in some realms, but, at other times, the striving for perfection limits the joy of discovery. I've been flushed with enjoyment throwing a lumpy pot and composing resoundingly mediocre poems. But I keep those out of sight!

At the same time I have doggedly rewritten work, usually by then for nothing because I have already exhausted a budget. And i have been in awe of mastery in so many domains.

I am absorbed by your post and this topic.

So pretty. Such fine detail.

I'd be extremely grateful if you could tell me how one detects/recognises one's own artistic talent. The criteria are all sliding-scale (eg, if you sing comparison with Renée Fleming wouldn't necessarily be useful). If you depend on others, people tend to be kind. Art is an area where good intentions may turn out to be the worst failing of all.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.