November 7, 2023

To err is to be human, yet we go to great pains to prove ourselves otherwise. Any piece of art is a summation of our triumphs and failures made along the way.

For the genius is revealed not in the absolute perfection of a work but in absolute fidelity to himself, in commitment to his own passion. The passionate aspiration of the artists to the truth, to know the world and himself in the world, endows with special meaning even in the somewhat obscure, or, as they are called, “less successful” passages in his works.
  • Andrey Tarkovsky, from Sculpting in Time

Most of us aim for perfection. While it’s a noble attempt, we’re quick to get mired in striving for a perfection that doesn’t exist. In that mire, we can lose our guiding current of creativity. We may sink and lose hope because the target of flawlessness is impossible to capture. 

We may look to outside tools and forces to aid us and move us closer to perfection. We let the machine and the algorithm remove human error. Missed notes are auto-tuned to the exact pitch. The AI dials in your writing, and the photo editor corrects your photo. What we lose along the way is what makes us human — the flaws. What’s left after is artwork that is cast in plastic and bloated with silicone.

Seeking perfection from you and your work is to deny yourself of universal humanity. 

To be clear, none of this is an indictment against pursuing the best version of what you’re creating. Precision isn’t synonymous with perfection. Precision is doing your best work with focus and intent. Seeking perfection is to demand the ill-defined “ideal work” from the charmingly flawed “real work”.

Three Factors:

There are three factors that can have a significant effect on the final “quality” of a piece:

  • The amount of skill and technique you have to execute at a particular moment
  • The materials available
  • The ephemeral unconsciousness providing us with ideas

Skill and Technique

Skill is what routines like figure drawing, practicing scales, and writing exercises build. Without a well-developed technique, executing your vision won’t come easy. 

We can set more objective standards for judging skill, but having a lot of doesn't always equate with great work. There are many soulless works executed with technical virtuosity. Emotional and poignant art is often made without much technical execution. Sometimes to make something great, all you need is “just enough” skill.


You can’t expect to create a blockbuster film on a home camera. But, you don’t always need expensive materials, better instruments, or a bigger studio to create something worthwhile. Often creativity flourishes better within constraints. With an infinite budget and no guardrails, creativity can flounder. Something so amorphous needs boundaries. When you don’t set any parameters you’re losing the skeleton guiding you to a mature creation. The key here is to not expect a certain result out of materials that won’t yield your desired outcome.

Caveat: there is something to be said about getting quality materials to work with. Working with lesser materials can cause unnecessary friction in the act of creation. Assess whether you’re trying to force an outcome out of a material that won’t yield that result. if so, try a different approach or find materials that provide the potential you need.

Where Ideas Come From

We can never predict what will resonate with people. What matters most here is what you find successful. Trying to catch and plan ideas to make other people happy only leads to work that feels forced. When you’re not being true to what moves you in an attempt for validation from others, you’ll only end up disappointed. There are two scenarios in this case:

Scenario 1:

What you thought would yield approval from others fails and you’re left with a piece that you yourself can’t enjoy.

Scenario 2:

You manage to make something other people enjoy, but there is an internal friction you can’t quite place. That’s your subconscious indicating that you’re not creating from a source of truth. Then what? Do you continue to pursue what other people like now that you’ve figured it out? Forever working for a capricious audience that can leave you high and dry, leaving you alone with the work that doesn’t reflect any sort of truth to you?

This is where working from intuition and trusting your gut comes into play. Here you leave space for an idea to enter the room, and we often don’t have much control beyond providing the arena for it. The more work you create, the stronger your sense of intuition becomes. You know when to follow a thread or avoid a path that leads to a dead-end. You become more discerning when it comes to following these more tenuous and exploratory parts of the process.

Working from intuition can be some of the most difficult parts of the process. For more linear thinkers, it can be difficult to let go of metrics and objectives. With the technical parts of a process, it’s easier to measure success, there’s more of a binary metric. Does this portrait look convincing? Did I hit all the notes in the scale? Did I land on all my marks?

With intuition, success comes from abiding by the signposts in your subconscious. 

Progress and Perfection

You’ll often come back to old works and find more and more flaws as you grow in skill. This can feel discouraging and can make it at times difficult to trust your perceptions of your work. 

What was once a suitable or even a great piece of work at the time now falls flat in front of you. This is a sign of your growth, and ought to continue happening. 

If you attempt your best effort on a piece, with 100% conviction — that’s the best you can do at that moment. You should take solace in that. Also, take comfort in the fact that you’re continuing to improve. The things you no longer like in your old work are things you can avoid in future work. 

There is always a push and pull in this pursuit of creating your best work. You’ll want to aim for the closest version of whatever “perfect” means to you. Once you’ve given the best to the work at hand, and the work is done, don’t get too hung up on where the parts fall short in your eyes. Maybe you need to redo the piece. Maybe the mistakes are lessons you take to the next piece. 

Or maybe you’re focusing on the problems you find, that others won’t notice. These are non-problems that only you can feel as the one who brought the work from the ether into a corporeal form. Again, this is where listening to intuition comes into play.

I don’t know if these internal tensions ever fade away when it comes to creating. Perhaps they’re a prerequisite for making anything good in the first place. Few things of consequence form without some kind of stress or pressure. It’s up to us to decide how we want to approach these sorts of dilemmas — do we give up and avoid the pain of this tension, or lean into it and learn to live with it?



I like to leave my readers with what I’m listening to in the studio. This week, I’d like to recommend “Disco Funk” by Galaxy.

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