Imperfections Are What Make Art Great

Kyle Smith

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I love to visit the St. Louis Art Museum. Whenever I go, I always set aside time to study Van Gogh’s paintings. There’s something special about seeing them up close and in person. It’s different than looking at them in a book. I get as close as I can without stepping over the viewing line and being accosted by security guards. The view is completely different up close. You notice the lumps of paint on the canvas. Straight lines become crooked. Perfect shapes become a little unbalanced. Bold strokes become blobs of paint.

What looks so flawless at a distance is full of imperfections when you get up close. This is one of the differences between art made by machines and art made by humans.

Take music, for example. Machines make music that is perfect, but it has no soul. People make music that is imperfect and sprinkled with flaws, but still human.

The Beatles made an astonishing amount of great music, but most of it isn’t perfect. It’s filled with mistakes, imperfections, and oddities here and there. Yet no one would argue that it diminished the greatness of their music. (For a complete list of “imperfections,” visit the site What Goes On - The Beatles Anomalies List.)[i]

In an age of computerized perfection, it’s easy to feel pressure to produce flawless art. But we don’t consider a work of art “great” because it’s perfect. We think of “great art” as something that’s full of passion and humanity, something that represents hard work, creativity, and achievement.

An original Van Gogh is priceless, but a printed poster of the same painting only costs a few dollars. Why is that?

The original has imperfections. The original is original. And nothing beats original.

Now let's focus on you. You're an artist, even if you don't realize it. You've written poems and stories in the past. You may play an instrument or even take really great photos. We'res all creative until at some point we accept the lie that we are not creative.

So, when it comes to creating art, tell me something: are you a glass half-empty or a glass half-full kind of person?

I believe your answer to this question explains how you think about your imperfections.

A glass half-empty artist only sees what’s missing. He focuses on the mistakes and all the things he could have done better.

But a glass half-full artist sees the beauty, goodness, and truth he has added to the world. It may not be perfect, but he’s created something of value that didn’t exist before.

It’s easy to look at the glass of your creativity and see what you didn’t achieve. But at the end of the day, even if the glass is half full, you have still filled it with something worthwhile. A person dying of thirst would be just as grateful for a glass half full as they would a full glass.

And we do live in a thirsty world—a world thirsty for beauty, grace, love, acceptance, and truth. You can offer all of that and more through your art and your life.

Whatever you have to offer, even if it’s imperfect, is a welcome gift to a thirsty world.

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you struggle with being a perfectionist? What do you think is driving your emotional need to be perfect?

2. What’s something you’ve created that wasn’t perfect? Did the flaws detract from someone’s enjoyment of it?

3. Have you ever noticed mistakes in music or a movie? Did the mistakes make you enjoy it less?

4. Why are we sometimes so gracious toward others but so hard on ourselves?

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I write about writing, productivity, creativity, and much more.

St. Louis, MO
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