On perfection – two quotes and a short visual commentary

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection”
Michelangelo
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
Salvador Dali
This year the Edexcel examination board set an A level art exam paper called ‘Flaws, Perfection, Ideals or Compromises’. In the era of the selfie, and where so many images are blatantly photoshopped to remove every facial flaw, I admire the examiners for selecting a title that provided sixth formers with the starting point from which to seriously investigate beneath the presented surface.

Obviously, there is a philosophical component to the exam theme too and surely any received notion of perfection is dependent on cultural, religious and contemporary expectations, and, dare I say it, always subjective. And, once we start to look we very quickly find plenty of makers who have chosen to work towards or work against ideas of perfection.

And, finally . . .

Vanitas-18th-century-Wellcome

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

8 thoughts on “On perfection – two quotes and a short visual commentary”

  1. A little wear and tear is so often presented as imperfection, but I think it’s actually an element of perfection. That’s my thought on the subject and – I loved the Dali quote!

    I worked in a bank for a long time and there, in legal terms (I did commercial lending) a lien is said to be perfected when the legal requirements (notice, paperwork, etc.) were done. Perfection was attainable! Just follow the path.

    Enough philosophizing. I liked this post. Made me think.

    1. You know, the more I thought about it the more I considered it also has a personal worldview component too, more than simply a subjective view for any single example. I think for some of us, and here I’m with Dali and Michelangelo, perfection is an ideal never attainable in any human reality. Perhaps some mathematicians would disagree, but I think complete, resolved and beautiful are words we could often substitute for perfect or perfection. (Last year a dentist finished my root canal with the word ‘Perfect’ – and one year on and 4 dentists later I’m still taking pain killers!!)

      1. Oh dear – regarding the root canal. We could not even say “resolved” for that one.

        I often use the word “satisfied” in the place of perfection. My husband feels it has a level of lackingness to it, but to me, if I am satisfied, I am totally right with how things are.

    1. Ah yes, sorry, our sixth formers are usually 17 and 18 year olds. And, it’s A level results that make up a significant part of the university application process.
      Last photo is an 18th century vanitas piece on display at the Wellcome Institute in London. Just a little reminder that lucky or unlucky, rich or poor etc, etc no-one escapes the march of time. Recently, the 30 year old Olivier Rousteing, fashion designer and ‘brand builder’ at Balmain said it was very intense deciding “Who is going to look cool and young, and who is going to look old and irrelevant.” Sorry, Mr Rousteing, but my teenage nieces already think 30 is old and irrelevant! I’m not sure why sane, seemingly intelligent people don’t think that getting old will happen to them – if they are lucky and don’t die first.

  2. Did you know – I found out whilst reading one of Antonia Fraser’s books – that touching up photos is nothing new as the Tudor equivalent of a selfie was a Hans Holbein portrait and he was leaned on to touch up, in the right way, some of what he saw in front of him.

    Also I was surprised to learn that Henry and Holbein invented internet dating in 1539 as the artist was packed off around Europe to paint women’s portraits for Henry to ogle by the comfort of his own fireplace.

    My cardinal rule of internet dating is that anyone can have one good picture, but unless there are two then she’s too good to be true. I guess no-one explained this to the old duffer. I know this as he also developed mail-order brides when he ordered in Anne of Cleves from Germany and when she got delivered he complained that she didn’t look like the picture.

    1. Yes – I like the way you’ve added a 21st century gloss to the Henry and Holbein soap. God, can you imagine turning up for an internet date with Henry VIII at that stage of his life – yuuccckkk. And, very scary too. Of course this Anne of Cleves debacle was one of the contributing excuses used to bring about the execution of the amazing Thomas Cromwell.

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