Monday, August 5, 2013

The Perfectionism Spectrum

Last week I posted this quote on my Facebook fan page to spark some discussion: "Perfection is an interesting idea, but I don't think it should have a place of honor in the creative process." – Sasha Soukup

I was surprised to find that a lot of people agreed with Soukup, because I actually strongly disagree. I have perfectionist tendencies, not to the point of OCD, but I always strive to be as close to perfect as I can. This ethic leads to me practicing a lot, taking extra lessons, getting professional help to learn about makeup and costuming, reading up on dance etiquette and so much more. I realized that my opinion on perfection was more than I could put in a Facebook comment and I needed to make a blog post about it.

As I was mulling over the topic, I came up with the idea of the Perfectionism Spectrum. I don't feel like the quest for perfection is an all or nothing deal. I think that there's a very wide range and that most people fall somewhere in the middle rather than to one extreme or the other. 

At the lowest end is what I would call the "Eh, Good Enough!" people. These are the sort of people who shrug off problems with their work by saying "The audience will never know the difference" or "It's handmade it's supposed to have flaws!" or "You're not paying me enough for me to work harder on this." Now, there are times when it's valid to say any of these. Sometimes there are problems that are beyond your control and you need to just accept them. But it is not cool to have this attitude all the time and use it to slack off on things like practicing hard when you have a show coming up, or trimming all the threads on your new costume or behaving professionally at a gig. I think you can tell that I don't have a lot of patience for this sort of person.

At the highest end of the spectrum are the "It's Never Good Enough!" people. These are the sort of people who create beautiful work but never share it with the world because it's not perfect yet. This is the author who constantly revises their first chapter and never moves on in the story, the dancer who comes to class every week and practices hard but never performs because she doesn't dance like a superstar yet, the painter who doesn't think his work is worthy of hanging in a gallery. I feel bad for these people because they have something beautiful but they never think it's good enough to share with the world.

I try to maintain a happy relationship with perfection. I strive for it, knowing that it is impossible to be perfect all the time. However, I do think that through hard work, it's possible to achieve moments of perfection. Surely as a dancer you've felt it, when you do exactly the right move to the very best of your abilities, and you hit the note right where you wanted to, and you caught the audience's eye, and you were feeling the music so hard, and it was.... perfect. I know that I will never have a performance that is a string of perfect moments. But I do know that I can achieve perfect moments, and if I have just one or two in a solo and the rest of the time I am doing really well, then the over-all impression is going to be that I did an amazing job.

So yes, I do think that perfection should have a place of honor in the creative process. Why wouldn't I want to strive for a perfect 3/4 shimmy or Arabesque? Why wouldn't I want to know my song inside and out so that I can hit the perfect accents and truly feel the music? I think that it is possible to have a healthy approach to perfection, and that artists in any medium can strive for perfect moments in their work.

Please feel free to share your opinion in my comments section, I enjoy a lively discussion!

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