Allow for Imperfections

If you were to choose between authenticity and perfect, what would it be? I bet for most of us, it would be the former. Who wants perfect when authentic feels real, inspiring and even more beautiful with its flaws, cracks and defects, than something that is perfect? Think about that for a moment. Relate the thought to your art, whether you photograph, paint, make music or whatever you do.

I know for myself I often seek to make the best I can do, I shoot around a subject to find the best angle, the best composition, the best light. I keep editing the images afterwards in Lightroom og Photoshop until I feel they are flawless. While instead I should allow for flaws and imperfections to bring out the authentic feeling from the outset. The Hollywood version of whatever we create is never going to be real, or even representative of what we stand for. As such, it won’t touch others as strongly as if we had allowed for flaws and imperfections in the creation.

Leonard Cohen once wrote, “Ring the bell that can still ring. There are cracks in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. Flaws are what makes us authentic and real, flaws are what make us shine, and authenticity trumps perfection every time. Those who ring cracked bells are the ones who make the biggest difference in our lives. They are the musicians who write the best songs, the artists who make the most meaningful art, the poets who write the strongest lines, and the people who make the best friends.

When all hell breaks lose, these people’s presence provides hope because they are real. Nobody wants to spend time with a perfect person when the world is falling apart. We want to be with people who understand. Rather than fix our brokenness, they reveal the light even in dark times. Not all cracks are bad; some are just wild edges where birds find refuge.

Think about again. When did you allow for flaws in your creative endeavours? Or at least accept them when they inevitably show up?

The American songwriter duo, Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, has allowed for imperfection to be part of their music. It came about when Linford’s father gave the couple some advice when they moved from the city to a farm: “Leave the edges wild”. It was a curious suggestion for someone who is new to rural life. Linford’s dad was a bird watcher, and he knew that if you make a farm too perfect, you won’t leave any space for the native birds. He said, “Leave the edges wild and let the birds have their hidden places for their untamed music.” Linford and Karin picked up that phrase and integrated the spirit of it into their work. The phrase became a metaphor for how they approached music and life. It wasn’t just about the birds, but about how to provide space for the cultivated and untamed aspects of life to thrive next to each other. If the neat rows of vegetables provided sustenance for the body, the wild edges would provide it for the souls.

Leaving the edges wild is a great mantra for any creative pursuit. Life can become so pasteurized and predictable that there isn’t any space left for mystery or surprise. Wild edges create a zone for the unfinished and untamed to thrive. Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” and it’s true. Think of your favourite song, book, movie, or romantic love—you can only explain it so far, and there is always an intangible and incomprehensible element that resonates within.

The most beautiful, most wonderful, and most magnificent push past the barriers of our limited minds. Where reason falls shorts, art steps in. Art is the mystery that awakens and stirs our soul and helps us stop being so caught up in the chaos of our small lives. To do so, though, it must be authentic. And authentic comes with flaws and imperfections.

Flaws can be beautiful if we can learn to embrace them for what they are. The creative process is not perfect, but is inherently flawed. And creativity flows the fastest when we strive to create great things but leave some openness for the fringe. Creativity grows best when it has plenty of space to breathe. So leave the edges wild and let your untamed and hidden spirit grow. Allow for flaws and imperfections.

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76 thoughts on “Allow for Imperfections

  1. Otto, this is absolutely beautiful. So many quotable lines and I hope you don’t mind it I use some of them in my upcoming classes I’ll be teaching on spirituality. Because so much of what you said relates to life itself and I’m trying to encourage others to be more authentic. Thank you so much for a lovely post!!

  2. I live by ‘Ring the Bells that Still Can Ring’ with regard to my health, Otto! An my photography, because I am less capable of holding a camera for more than a minute or three at a time…so I am constantly adapting…. But that’s what we need to do

  3. To me this is one of your best blogs – it really hit home! I loved the sentiment (like ringing a cracked bell) and I loved the “Leave the edges wild” phrase. I had never thought of creativity this way. Wonderful!

  4. “Leave the edges wild” is an interesting remark. The way it relates to me is it allows for more room to improve in the future. You will not get to anywhere if you wait for perfection. Let creativity out, evaluate the outcome and improve… in cycles. You get to some where. Great post.

  5. Wow! What an inspiring post, Otto. I love that saying, “Keep the edges wild.” It gives one permission to experiment instead of always striving for perfection. So much less stress. Thank you. 😃

  6. Love this post, Otto. I think we all like to find kindred spirits to whom we can relate to and speak, or create, with, knowing that the other person receives our message without having to ask questions or wonder what we are trying to convey.
    I tend to enjoy any creative pursuit that speaks my language and tells a story.
    The point is that everyone is unique. Everyone is different. So in whatever way anyone speaks, there is always a ‘listener’ who is receptive and understands. We all have flaws, but a kindred spirit absorbs those flaws without noticing their imperfection.

  7. That’s great advice and very well put. It’s not such an easy concept to adhere to in this medium – leaving the edges wild, or letting imperfection rest where it is, is easier in painting I think, or music, or dance. Finding your own voice instead of imitating others is one way to leave the edges wild, I guess, but allowing imperfections in photographs – that’s hard! But worthwhile. Something to think about. thank you Otto!

    1. It might be that leaving the edges wild is harder in photography – in a literal sense. But no doubt we can allow for flaws and imperfections equally as in any other art form. Be it technically, compositionally or – as you indicate – by imitating others.

  8. I love the phrase “leaving the edges wild.” That’s a fabulous perspective that works in so many situations where perfectionism threatens! It’s such a positive way to go forward without the need to conform to a particular outcome or direction.

  9. Hello dear Otto. Its been a long time since I visited you over here and I’m so glad I did. Why do we think perfection was so important? Allowing ourselves to “…leave the edges wild…” and “…let the birds have their hidden places for their untamed music…” is so liberating.
    Thanks to Robin for sharing your words of wisdom on FB.

  10. The term ‘perfection’ is most frequently used to imply technical accuracy and competence. But, as you say Otto, perfection in this sense can be sterile. Its purpose is to enable expression and in the relationship between technical accuracy and expression the latter must be the senior partner.

  11. Perfection can be a matter of perspective; one person’s dumpster dive could be another’s work of art. To me, it seems like the more intimate the composition, the more interesting the “flaws” become.

  12. I usually go through the same procedure… Lightroom, Photoshop… and sometimes, when I compare the original to the end result, the latter feels like it just dropped dead… So I start all over again, trying not to be so extremely ‘correct’… 🙂
    Thanks for telling us that’s ok! 😉

    1. I think we all need this reminder from time to time. Particularly because so much many possibilities are available in post-production, we get tempted to keep going beyond what is necessary or even fruitful.

  13. I don’t know… If perfection is only some Platonic ideal, then I’m in full agreement with your post. But there are other ways of understanding perfection. For example, I consider the etheree I wrote about Mary Oliver to be ‘perfect.’ Why? Because there isn’t a gap between what I intended and what I achieved. Granted, that’s a rare experience. Usually the gap is there, and is visible — that ‘crack’ that Cohen wrote about. But when that gap between intention and result disappear, whatever else the world may say about the song, the painting, or the photograph, the artists knows it for what it is: not only perfect, but authentic as well.

    Well, these are just musings. But that’s what I love about your posts. They get me thinking.

    1. Whether it’s Platonic or not, the idea of perfection often spurs us to overdo or “clean up” our creative work, just like a Hollywood film that seems too perfect to be true and thus, in my eyes at least, often tends to be boring. And, yet, of course we want our work to be right, we want the etheree to be exactly that. As we want a photograph to be well compose and well balance (that is, if we deliberately don’t want it to be).

  14. This is a lesson I’m trying to live this week. I turned in an assignment and was glad to get paid — but I just can’t stand the imperfections in the final piece. The customer is thrilled with it. I’m working on my attitude 🙂 BTW, your instagram post gave me issues when I tried to post a comment. Not sure if it just rejected me or if others have had a problem.

  15. Oh boy … this is a tough one for a perfectionist! I may allow for imperfections in my work that I secretly admire but don’t show! I am not sure why I should. When I see a photograph that falls short in one way or another (composition, contrast, color, focus) I just think the photographer isn’t very skilled. I am always concerned with being true to myself and authentic however. A thought-provoking post.

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