The limits of perfection

Perfection demands it be preserved in a sterile glass case, sheltered from the weather, untouched by time, abstracted from life, mummified in a museum. By its very nature, it is rigid, brittle and unadaptable. But if perfection can be deadly, the corollary is that it is imperfection that ensures the survival of an artistic creation. For only what is imperfect, incomplete, unfinished, remains susceptible to modification and adaption. It affords a margin for compromise and transformation. Instead of being fatally dented by the carious accidents of life, imperfection can be harmoniously completed by them. Michelangelo said that a statue was not really finished unless it had rolled down from a mountain. In different places, at different times, great artists have always remained aware of this. In classical Japan, a famous master of the art of gardens instructed one of his disciples to clean the garden. The zealous disciple executed his task to perfection. The master came to inspect his work and frowned. Without a word, he walked to a young tree and gave its trunk a vigorous kick. Three dead leaves fell upon the immaculately manicured grass. The master smiled at last: Now it looks a little better. Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness:Collected Essays

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