How To Be An Artist, Part Two


Hi there!

This picture was taken two years ago.

It’s my old studio at Therapeutische Gemeinschaft, Hamburg-Jenfeld.

No, that’s not a group of artists.

It’s an institution.

Looks quite artsy and romantic, though, doesn’t it?

Imagine l’artiste! – all alone in his studio!

Left to his own devices.

Fighting the crucial battle.

Eye to eye with his enemies.




(Or whatever your substance of choice may be…)

You see the piece on my easel?

I had been messing around with it for months, painting it over again and again.

Then I took a jigsaw and cut it in two.

And you know what?

That worked out just fine.

The result was two small pieces I had to work on just a little further to get… well… acceptable results.

Sometimes, when you’re stuck, only drastic measures can save the day, not to mention your self-respect!

Well, you all know that…

Now you may ask yourselves – only acceptable results? What do you mean?

And what kind of artist are you anyway?

Aren’t you going for the big hit? Le chef-d’oeuvre? The magnum opus? Das Jahrhundertwerk?


Because there’s a risk.


And I don’t want to give in to that kind of delusion.

I feel that perfectionism is just one big, alluring trap.

A cognitive fallacy of morbid dimensions and a hazard to your mental health.

Believe me – I know what I’m talking about. I’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…

So I say:

Leave perfection to the mathematicians and their equations!

To the crystal structure of a diamond!

Or to God, if you must!

But when it comes to art, you just have to allow for a little chaos and non-linearity.

For a little imperfection and laissez-faire, if not downright sloppiness…

So… be kind to yourselves! And keep your fanaticism at bay!


Why, yes… !


Why bother… ?

St. Jerome wrote: “Perfectio vera in coelestibus” – true perfection is only to be found in heaven.

And so be it.


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Wait a minute…

Aristotle distinguishes three different concepts.That is perfect,

1. which is complete – which contains all the requisite parts; 2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better; and 3. which has attained its purpose.
Leibniz wrote: “Perfection, I call any simple quality, if it is positive and absolute, such that, if it expresses something, it does so without limits.”

To express something without limits…

Now what do you make of this?

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Peter Bies © 2008

13 thoughts on “How To Be An Artist, Part Two

  1. Well, yes. This may be a question of definition of words again.
    Anyone knows: There is not a really perfect thing on earth
    (that is why St. Jerome wrote: – true perfection is only to be found in heaven).

    But I think it would make no sense to through away this word “perfect”. I would agree with Leibniz. Especially in art the imperfect often is the adequate stadium for what you exactly want to express –
    and can be called therefore a “perfect” work.

    But to try to get close to what you are looking can mean to get as imperfect, as loose, as preliminary, as temporary, as simple as art ever has been done.
    On the other hand if you tend to work longer harder or more precise this does not keep you from failing to reach what you are hoping for.

    So I think it does make no sense to say “Perfectionism” is a trap.
    The question should be a different one, not the pro and cons of “perfect”, “excellece”, “ideal”. The real risk you are taking is – at any strategy you prefer – to miss the proper relation of form and content, to miss the perfection that comes with the “ideal” combination – that can mean to do the most simpel thing in the most silly way and and and.

    I would call a simple piece of bread with butter, a Bob Dylan song, one raw sketch on napkin as “perfect” as so called masterpieces. And having said that, this does not make the so called masterpiece, magnum opus, the Jahrhundertwerk less delicious and “perfect” for me.

    It is broadening the mind if you are able to find pleasure amongst both extremes.
    Fanaticism only lies in instisting on the strategy one prefers without understanding the other strategies. I´m hope I´m learning.

    A perfect day yall!

  2. Well, I feel that perfectionism is a trap.
    I didn’t mean to generalize.
    It doesn’t have to make sense to you, Jochen!
    Your approach is definitely different from mine.
    I appreciate that. I do.

  3. And I don’t think that missing the proper relation of form and content would be a real risk.
    At least I wouldn’t call it a risk.
    Just a possible outcome.
    Artistic failure as opposed to artistic success.
    The risk of perfectionism?
    You just don’t have to be perfect.
    Because you have a right to make mistakes.
    Artists as well as anybody else.

  4. Once “Der Wilde” Werner Büttner told me his strategy of accidents on canvas, “auf der Leinwand verunfallen”. Artistic failure as success …

    I pointed out that this is a contradiction within itself. And he became very, very angry. He blamed me of intellectual hairsplitting, talking like a lawyer or something. I shut up, because he blamed me of what he himself started – he was yelling at himself. Ok, at least he did some good “bad paintings” with funny titles (uh, don´t tell him, he will yell again!).

    The trash painter party is the most intolerant to my expierience. Maybe because they need to defend their week position?

    Well, maybe I still do not get it?!?
    But what is the use of insisting on making mistakes if we commit them constantly anyway?
    We should not feel too bad about that, it is only natural. Why shouldn´t we care about the rare exceptions, the little and bigger masterpieces?

    I know, exceeded demands are “hazard to your mental health”. Too high expectations can crush you. If you are longing for something but it seems too hard to do it can become “one big, alluring trap”. It depends, for the one this trap may be “perfection” for the other one to “lower his expectations”. Risky live anyway … for artists as well as anybody else.

  5. “Wer nichts will, nichts erhofft und nichts fürchtet, der kann kein Künstler sein.”
    Anton Tschechow (1, 272), Brief an Alexej S. Suworin: 25. November 1892

  6. Maybe a flaw is perfection when one looks at it from a different perspective. Are there really accidents in art…?

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