Gap of incongruity

Almost every artist reaches a point with their creative work where other people (need to) appear and tell them it’s time to stop with the paint, words, thread, clay whatever, and release the art into the wild. This is because it is done. That’s why editors, directors, collectors, choreographers and mentors exist – to tell artists to stop.

Stop! Photo by Daian Gan on

My theory is this: creators are often poor judges of when a piece is complete. The reason is there’s a gap between the work itself and the artist’s vision of the work. Leaving aside skill, talent, tools, time and practice, this gap is naturally occurring and is seldom overcome by more work on the art. Rather, the gap is resolved by a realisation.

The realisation is this: the vision and the piece can be brought closer to congruent, but can never fully align. That is, no vision is ever, completely manifested. Human imaginations get closer to perfect than our physical and human limitations allow: artists need to know and forgive themselves for this. Then, for the love of the work, stop freaking tinkering. As some character in a cold film I’ve never seen sings: let it go.

Something about letting it go. Photo by on

Thus, if people tell you the painting is done, it might well be complete. Believe them. The picture might not match the platonic idea of the painting in your head, but will an extra brushstroke get it there? Likely, extra paint might will ruin it.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and how this unreadiness to stop (might this be toxic perfectionism?) has occurred in past writing classes, current FB painting groups, and was even expressed by Mandy Patinkin overthinking The Princess Bride and not being ready to hear Cut. Print. In my own work, I admit sometimes others see better than I the art as it is, while all I see is how far my work falls from my vision of what it should be.

It was the dilemma faced by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose poem Kubla Khan, was a mere and sadly interrupted attempt at describing the drug induced dream he had of Xanadu. My point is his poem was still (eventually) published no matter how far it fell short of depicting Coleridge’s alleged vision.

So far, I’m talking about creative pursuits. It’s also about people, and by people I mean me. I judge myself for the impossible distance between the flawed, ridiculous human me, and the imagined, perfectly complete person I am apparently supposed to be – yet never become. Thus, life is incongruous. Everything about me feels misaligned, except for those moments of clarity when my perspective shifts. Then I realise I don’t have to accept a vision of me that’s impossible to live up to. Nor do I have to accept that mundane me is not allowed make, do and have things that are wonderful. Believing this is an effort I need more spoons for, but that’s another story.

Grit makes pearls. Photo by Khairul Onggon on

In the end, the things I write come from the absent-minded, grumpy me, as much as quick-witted, rarely appearing ideal me. I’m trying to learn to forgive whatever painful breaches remain between the reality and the vision, because I know that sometimes the gap of incongruity is the source of the grit that makes the pearl. It is Coleridge’s deep romantic chasm. It is, dammit, where inspiration comes from.

And now this is complete.


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