Everyone on TV is gorgeous, influencers rule social media with altered photos and perfect bodies, and music is processed to death. We’re supposed to take this as the way things are now: clean, pristine, flawless. Real life isn’t that, not by a longshot. Real life is a mess and we’ve been sold a bill of goods about the value of perfection. Not only is it unrealistic, but perfection is boring and uninteresting. It leaves so much to be desired.
Our media diet has been scrubbed clean of imperfections, those lovely features that give things life. Where to begin? People, let’s begin with people – arguably the worst thing ever to happen to our planet. It’s no wonder Hollywood breeds all manner of sexual deviant, it’s trafficked in beauty for its entire existence. Auditions are less so for talent and more so for assessing attraction. Movies and shows don’t get made unless there are beautiful people attached. Airbrushed faces and bodies, surgeries galore, all to push products and sell sex. It works, doesn’t it? Listen, beautiful people are wonderful, not even a cynic like me would take that away. But Hollywood is so at odds with itself: equal parts encouraging body positivity and pushing perfection. You can’t have it both ways.
And while I’m on the subject, the fact that influencers exist at all is insane to me. To be clear, I’m talking mainly about beauty and fitness influencers, though no one is safe. These influencers are self-appointed “beautiful” people posting daily images of themselves made up, touched up, and scantily clad, but strangely, the photos are often accompanied by some pseudo-positive message about Zen or whatever other misappropriated Buddhist teaching is trending that week. The most important distinction here is “self-appointed.” These people found themselves pretty and decided to sell that as a commodity that everyone else must need. It’s laughable.
Perfection has also left a stain on art, both visual and musical. Art is a visceral endeavor, very personal, very impulse-driven. This, however, is at odds with the current way of making music. Music is chopped, rearranged, tuned, moved, repeated, and meticulously planned. Where’s the impulsivity there? To me, it’s only in a loose environment that great art is made. Music should be made with permanent marker not pencil. It’s in the endless tweaking and second guessing that art loses its life. The only thing worse is art made by focus group findings. Music benefits from following a thread wherever it leads, not formulas and compulsory inclusions of hooks to make a song marketable. Capitalism couldn’t be more at odds with art. Money, as it does with all things, ruins art. Gone seem to be the days of making music like throwing paint on a canvas, celebrating accidents and imperfections. So much of the music and photography we see on a daily basis can hardly be considered organic.
Why strive for perfection? It’s unnatural. Life is messy, and so should be art. We’ve come to expect perfection because we’ve been fed a steady diet of it for years. But perfection isn’t nourishing. Perfection is a TV dinner, processed and modified. We don’t need that, we need something natural and nourishing, something organic. I’ve always been a firm believer that, in the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It’s the not the destination, it’s the journey.” If the end goal is perfection, you’ve already lost. It’s the process of discovery that yields the best art. In writing, as in painting and music, I’ve always tried to keep in mind the mantra of “taking the ride,” to quote Hunter Thompson, a writing hero of mine. So much is lost in the endless processing, but so much can be gained in just letting go and taking the ride. I paint with no end-game in mind, I just paint. I write by letting go, often completely unsure of where I’m going. I make music in a forward direction by design, unable to go back and correct anything by the very nature of my approach: looping and whatnot.
The point is this: perfection isn’t important. It’s unrealistic and unnatural. It’s led to a great deal of unhappiness in America and the world over. Unrealistic expectations have led us to believe the pursuit of perfection is a worthwhile endeavor. It isn’t. Imperfections have come to be viewed as undesirable and are thus eliminated from art, but it’s the imperfections that make art great. I’ll take an experimental piece of art, music, or writing over a processed piece of propaganda any day. People aren’t perfect, art isn’t perfect. Just as we shouldn’t expect perfection of each other, we also shouldn’t expect it from art.