In a few days I will turn 30. What I really need to have as a birthday present, is a book titled “A Dreamer’s Guide to Perfection”. Unfortunately, not only that such book doesn’t exist, there seems to be a consensus that “there is no such thing as perfect”. It is something one hears ever so often, yet I suspect there is.
Allow me, for a second, to absolve myself from the burden of proof and declare that I witness perfection on a daily basis: walking through green parks, going to concerts, stopping to stare through the display window of the Chanel store downtown. 30 years of age, I am shamelessly lucky to be in the presence of flawlessness, and remind myself time and again that others (in refugee camps and war zones, living in poverty, hedged in a wall of violence…) are less likely to state the same. But then again, who knows? Because perfection appears not to be about beauty, but rather about the accuracy and the extent to which something fulfils its own call. Aristotle defines it with three steps:
1. which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
3. which has attained its purpose.
I see perfection all around me, therefore I dream of perfecting my own creations, and such dreams require guidance. Mental guidance above all.
Throwback to a strings summer-course I went to some fifteen years ago: I was crying over a rehearsal that didn’t go so well, and the pianist with whom I played told me I was suffering from “destructive perfectionism”. Of course, what she meant, was simply that I was being too hard on myself, and that I desired something which is, apparently, unrealistic. The term she coined – destructive perfectionism – occupied my thoughts long after, and the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit to myself disagreeing that perfectionism could truly be something negative. Though obviously, it needs balance.
“A Dreamer’s Guide to Perfection” should have a hard, linen cover in pale pistachio green. The title should be pressed in white, uppercase letters, not too big.
If I was to write this desired book, it would begin with these two quotes, printed side-by-side:
1. “there is not a note too much or too little, not a bar you could improve on. Whether it is also beautiful is an entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.”
— Johannes Brahms
2. “Make what’s perfect more human”.
— Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt
When put together, these two perspectives illustrate a most complex, almost impossible balance, which is at the core of any masterpiece. I dare to say, that Brahms – the great humanist, would have agreed that “perfect and human it must be”.
If the idea that a work of art can be both flawless and human at the same time makes you want to shout: “but mistakes are human!”, which is, of course, true, let me suggest an analogy. When we fall in love with someone, we almost deliberately fail to see their flaws. Later, when this falling-in-love business grows into mature love, we might be able to point out all those negative sides that person surely has (because we all have), but these flaws play a very minor role in the way we perceive the one we love. In other words, when we love someone unconditionally, that person is, for us, perfect. Naturally, that doesn’t mean she or he are objectively perfect. As you shouted a second ago, humans are not perfect.
Of course, this whole discussion has to assume that perfection is not a global, objective definition, but is rather subjected to personal judgement. A very cheeky assumption indeed. But let us be more precise and admit that we are not talking about perfect machines, or perfect surgeries, but rather about perfect works of art. And art cannot possibly be anything but subject to personal taste.
At the end of a long day, art is something humans do. It can be both perfect and human at the same time – if that’s the way you perceive it to be. And there is no reason why artists shouldn’t dream of creating something which is as good as possible.
To celebrate my birthday, I decided to dive into the thrilling task of putting together a playlist of those moments in the past years, when I heard something and announced out loud: perfect! The next Sunday Mixtape will be, simply and straight-forwardly, my all-time favourite pieces of music.