Sunday, April 24, 2011

In praise of imperfection in art

Some people just love anything that’s finely honed, all shined up, squeaky clean, highly skilled and perfectly rendered. Not me.


Give me imperfection and humanity any time!

I like my art to be dirty and messy. I’m not a fan of art that just copies real life – illustrative or representative art. We have the real thing to look at after all. Or art that airbrushes out all the little blemishes and mistakes of nature.

I’m not keen on skills-based art, the kind of thing where people go “Oh, how clever! I could never do that.” Then you’re not looking at any kind of creativity or humanity, but the skills and techniques behind it.

I don’t like dancers who have perfected their technique, but have nothing to say with it. You know the ones where you can tell exactly who they’ve studied with. Or people who study Alexander technique and walk down the street like they’re balancing a book on their head.

And I really don’t like jugglers. At least those who only juggle. We can all learn to juggle if we want, it’s not that hard. I have more time for the bad juggler who keeps dropping things.

The best juggler I ever saw was in Covent Garden. He had this amazing act whereby he juggled a range of differently sized things at the same time, but it was only at the end that I realised he had been juggling at all! The skills and technique were very much secondary to his act.

Give me an artist whose technique and skills are invisible and who has something to say about the world. Or even a creative person who is not perfect where we can see the imperfections and humanity behind the finished product.

Which is why I don’t like singers or choirs or music which is just so, so perfect. The blend is perfect, the rendition is perfect, the enunciation is perfect, the costumes are perfect. I may as well stay at home and read the score and imagine the music in my head.

If you ever go to one of those kinds of concerts you will tend to find the audiences on tenterhooks, unable to relax. As soon as the singers walk on stage you know what you’re in for and you start to worry for them. Perfection is impossible, of course, but you will them to succeed. You’re on the edge of your seat hoping against hope that there won’t be a bum note or a missed cue. Then you applaud wildly (and over-enthusiastically) at the end, because it’s all over and you can relax.

Then there are those concerts where the musical director puts you at ease with a bit of light-hearted chit chat, where the singers are obviously relaxed and enjoying themselves, when a wrong starting note is given and the world doesn’t end. At the first laugh or mistake you can feel the audience relax and sigh and settle in for an evening of entertainment without having to worry. We’re all human, and we’re all in this together. They’re on our side!

Sure technique and skill and practice are important, but don’t let it dictate. If you have nothing to say with the skills you have acquired, then better just keep them to yourself.

At least that’s my two ha’p’orth. What do you think?


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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