Thursday, April 16, 2009

perfect imperfect

Back to the Mall and the Smithsonians. I stopped walking and just started taking the Metro. I wish BART could be like the Metro. Cheap, roomy cars that don't have seats upholstered in grimy cloth, and trains that run fairly frequently. I don't understand why the Bay Area, which claims to be so very progressive and environmentally conscious, has such a shoddy public transit system. Even Ukraine has better public transit systems that the Bay Area.

I'm a perfectionist when I make things. I want it all to be perfect, which means I spend hours figuring out how to knit backwards out of mistakes I don't realize until two rows later, hacksawing apart welds that weren't put together at the correct angle, taking years to finish other pieces because I can't settle on the right design of one aspect or another, and spending way too much time writing blog posts trying to get the wording just right (and then correcting misspelled words as I find them later). But, what defines perfect? If the knitting mistake doesn't cause my scarf to unravel, why don't I just leave it it? I've been noodling on this recently. Striving towards what I consider perfection makes me waste a lot of time and energy. It makes me afraid to try things because they won't be right, won't be what I want, or won't be good enough. I get hung up on an outcome that hasn't even happened yet. I'm afraid to try. I'm trying to stop doing that, trying to muscle my way past my hang-ups about what might be, and just do. Just do and if it isn't right, just do over. I don't have an answer yet. Maybe there is no perfect. If there is no perfect, is everything perfect? I wouldn't go that far.

Freer Gallery of Art - Mostly Asian art, and a few rooms of American painters. The objects that prompted my musings on perfection were broken bowls and vases that had been mended in the Japanese style of using silver, gold, and lacquer to highlight the mend, rather than try to conceal it. It adds character, and in some cases, value to each piece. And, gorgeous. Better for its imperfection. If I hadn't caught the docent's explanation, or read the signage, I probably would have thought the mends were just freehanded designs in the glaze. This wasn't the best example, but it was for photographic purposes because of the contrast.

The ceramics were the kicker of the collection, not for their shapes, but for their exquisite glazing, both on repaired and unbroken vessels. To me, glazing is a black art. Where to even begin - to control heat, chemicals, compounds, and who know what other factors to get the range of effects that were on display. And further, to be able to deduce which ingredient and action had which effect, and then to reproduce it. If I were given the job of glazing a bunch of pottery, those Japanese repair artists would have a lot of work on their hands.

Sackler Gallery - more Asian art. The Freer and the Sackler are both part of the Asian Art collection, and are connected via a tunnel since most of the Sackler is underground. I was starting to lose track of things a bit by then, both which country I was in, and whether it was B.C. or A.D.

Arts and Industries Building - Closed for Renovation. Boohoo! Cue hound dogs baying mournfully.

Hirshhorn Museum - Every arachnophobe's worst nightmare is squatting in front of the Hirshhorn, bigger than life and with really pointy legs. It's Louise Bourgeois' Crouching Spider, and it looks like it's facing off with the Hirshhorn itself. Bourgeois' mother was a tapestry weaver and restorer, so her spiders represent maternal protectiveness. I once had a daddy longlegs living in my bathroom, up in the corner, and one day a little egg sac appeared in the web with what was now established as a her. Despite the fact that nothing else was ever in the bathroom except me, she sat in the web all day, egg sac firmly in her clutches, abandoning it only for short periods of time, until one day it spawned a bunch of barely visible baby spiders, and that was that. I don't know what happened to them because they really were very teeny. That daddy longlegs changed my view on spiders; before then I would simply tolerate them in my apartments, but after that I started liking it when they showed up.

But my daddy longlegs are wispy and insubstantial, and Bourgeois' look like they could crush a Mini Cooper like I would crush a soda can, skewer it onto one of its pointy feet, flick it into the Hirshhorn fountain, and then skittle off down the Mall to climb the Capitol dome. Which led me to more pondering on the perfect. My brain frequently equates perfect with neat. Which means messed up stitches and blobby welds are not perfect, and need to be fixed. The spiders are all of metal, and the legs are made it of pieces of metal tube. If you step back a few feet, the irregularities in the construction make it appear as if they are rippling with muscles. If you go up close, all that metal is put together with really messy welds - big, blobby, uneven, and splattered. Step back again, and all that non-neatness, on top of the sinewy metal, gives the legs an bumpy organic texture which make it more interesting and alive than if it were a smooth surface. Not that it's more perfect or imperfect either way, it's that looking at this piece up close made me think of what I might be missing when I strive to make something perfect, according to my own system of values. It made me want to go be messy. And it reminded me that I really need to get out more to see Art.

Museum of Natural History - meh. The animal mummies are neat. I suppose the big attractions are the other animal displays (live, stuffed, and floating around decomposing in jars), but what was unexpectedly cool was the minerals and gem display. Not the ones fashioned into jewelry, except the Hope Diamond (more on that in a sec), but the ones in their natural state. It's Nature at its most punk rock, cabaret can can showgirl kicking up her legs and showing frilly underthings flamboyance with wacky shapes, wacky colors, and wackier molecular formulas (scapolite = (Na,Ca)4(Si,Al)12O24(Cl,Co3,So4). There will be a quiz tomorrow).

I couldn't get close enough to see any of jewelry gems, so I just skipped that room. I did make a point of checking out the Hope Diamond. I don't care for diamonds, They just look like bits of glass to me, and I don't particularly care for glass objects, either, although I enjoy watching it being blown and shaped. The diamond is a lovely shade of midnight blue, but more interesting than the diamond itself are nifty and confounding facts surrounding it. Such as:

- It was originally over twice as big as it is now. Why anyone, Louis XIV included, would cut it down isn't addressed. Isn't the point of owning a really big fancy diamond to own a really big fancy diamond?
- One of its 20th century owners, Evalyn Walsh McLean, would stash it in the sofa, and reputedly modeled it on her Great Dane, Mike. God I really hope both of those are true. But who names their dog Mike?
- It phosphoresces a red-orange after being exposed to ultraviolet light.
- When it was donated to the Smithsonian in 1958 by Harry Winston, it was mailed - mailed! - from New York to Washington. The postal insurance cost $145.29, which I'm sure was more than the cost of a round trip ticket. I guess people were a little more trusting in those days.

I still don't know what perfect it, but I think I'm not so obsessed with it anymore.


Anonymous said...

i like the self-exploration. i struggle w/ similar feelings.

Cybele said...

very good discussion of the idea of perfection.