If you’re going to make something great, you must begin by making garbage. Ugly, awful, incomplete garbage.
I’m not comfortable with that at all. But it’s inescapable.
As a young man I was repeatedly taught the importance of excellence. That idea permeated my education. Implicitly and explicitly, the adults in my life ingrained in me what was expected. There’s no excuse for falling short of your potential. That kind of thing. It was constant.
Of course this didn’t have the desired outcome. Instead of straight A’s, I failed classes. Why do assignments if my best effort is no guarantee of perfection? If anything short of perfect is failure, and failure is so terrible, why risk it? It was more than just school. I’d only do work of any kind if I knew I could do it perfectly, or blame shortcomings on my cool, devil-may-care apathy.
Oh, bad grades? I get bad grades because I don’t do homework. I’d have aced it if I even tried.
[Secretly terrified my best efforts will never be enough].
Instead of excellence, I experienced anxiety. I spent my teens and twenties worrying that my imperfections (my many glaring, painful imperfections) would keep me from having success, happiness, or fulfillment.
Obviously, I’ve become aware of this neurosis. I've tried to work through it. But it’ll always be with me.
As a filmmaker, a surprising amount of my work has never seen the light of day. There are sometimes good reasons for this. The project changed directions, or the material was only for internal use. But sometimes I’ve created things that I never release simply because I didn’t think they were good enough.
Worse than that, this fear of imperfection has more often stopped me from even starting.
Great work isn’t easy. It takes time and study. It takes practice. And it requires failure.
If you’re not failing, it means you’re not doing enough new stuff. You’re not learning.
The only time you’re going to do something perfectly from the beginning is when the task is mechanical and clearly outlined by someone who has done this exact thing before.
No real art fits that description. Increasingly, valuable work doesn’t even fit that description.
If work is mechanical and routine, then it’s better done by machines.
If work is artful, subtle, and inventive, then you’ll necessarily “make mistakes” along the way. It’s called learning.
There is no efficient process for real art and innovation. It’s messy, often ad-hoc.
There are projects that live in my mind as brilliant works of genius. Nobody else has ever seen them. I haven’t ever really seen them. They’re vague, poorly defined, and may never be made, but the glittering generality is easier and often more appealing than the wake of detritus that leads to a real, finished piece of creative work.
This quest for perfection has never served me well. The only thing it’s ever accomplished is erecting walls around what I’d actually like to do.
I’d love to create sculpture, literature, film, and all manner of creative self-expression. But the notion of perfection literally dams that hope, stopping it cold before it can even turn into work.
I’m done with it. From here forward, expect to see some ugly (but finished and released) work from yours truly.