Michelangelo and the Art of Perfection

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” 

Aristotle

There’s a myth about Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel.

One day, someone was watching the Italian artist spend an insane amount of time laboring over a small, hidden corner of the chapel’s ceiling.

Surprised by Michelangelo’s persistence to make that obscure corner as perfect as possible, they asked the artist, “Who is ever going to know if it’s perfect or not?”

Michelangelo replied, “I will.”

Even though the great Renaissance artist considered himself to be a sculptor, and he wasn’t a big fan of painting, he did however have a deep love for the act of creation, regardless of the medium.

Another popular myth about Michelangelo is the fact that, even at the age of 82, a master of the arts, he was proud to admit that he was still learning.

The process was his reward. The creative journey interested him, far more than reaching the destination.

In our pursuit of success, we often focus mostly on the end result. Ironically, by doing that, we either neglect the journey because we want to get there as fast as possible or we simply obsess on making the end result as perfect as possible.

Either way, we forget to enjoy the journey, and in effect, we lose our desire to even reach the destination.

Perfectionism: A Manifestation of Fear

Perfectionism is the fear that you can only reach your goal if you create something that’s perfect.

However, the obvious side-effect is that perfection doesn’t exist.

Creative work is notoriously subjective, and as our own taste develops, how we rate our work changes.

The truth? Our work doesn’t have to be perfect. Our work just has to be.

The creatives who create works of art of high-quality do so because they are enjoying the process so much, it becomes effortless to spend a lot of time tinkering with their work.

They do not spend that time out of fear, but rather out of pure love for the work they’re doing.

If you enjoy the journey, you don’t want it to end, thus you spend far more time working on your art.

Fall in Love with The Process of Progress

Michelangelo spent four long years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He did so because he knew “perfect” was a state of mind born out of pure love, and not the side-effect of fear.

It is not reaching our destination that most fulfills us, it’s the progress we make each day on our way towards our destination.

Little by little, a little becomes a lot.

There’s an old Buddhist saying, “you’re already perfect, but you can always be better.”

On a day to day basis, our creative work is likely to feel mundane, a rather boring set of tasks, but it is our capacity to rephrase work as play that allows us to fall in love with the process.

And falling in love with the process is the only way to create work that’s as close to “perfect” as humanly possible.

How to Make the Most of the Unsexy Work of Creation

The age-old cliché that a journey of a thousand miles begins with taking the first step has become such a tired truism precisely because it’s one of the best strategies you can deploy if you want to reach your destination.

The goal isn’t to take perfect steps or to leap towards your destination, but rather to enjoy each and every step you take.

This is no big secret.

The daily deliberate practice of doing work that makes us smile ensures that we will create a product that’s as close to perfection as possible.

It is not fear of not reaching our destination that most motivates us, aka desperation, but rather enjoying the journey towards our destination, which is also commonly known as inspiration.

When you enjoy what you do, when every stroke of the brush reveals more of your soul, and both fascinates and teaches you, that’s when you feel inspired to do your best to create work that matters.

It is not a desire to create perfect work that ensures our work is perfect, but rather our desire to enjoy each and every single step along the way.

In order to create high-quality creative work, we must enjoy even the most boring, redundant, and mundane daily tasks that our work demands of us.

If we rush to complete the work, to reach our destination, we will find out that it was not worth it. Our work will be flawed, the feedback we receive will be negative.

If, on the other hand, we fear reaching the destination with anything less than perfect work, odds are we will never reach the destination, while the ensuring journey is marked with countless moments of doubt, anxiety, and frustration.

The writer who enjoys “every single word” they write into existence is the writer who “puts perfection in the work.”

Creative work is not just the act of expressing oneself, but also the act of impressing oneself.

In order to create work that impresses us, we must strive for progress, not perfection, while enjoying the often back-breaking, boring job of constant improvement.

6 Comments

  1. Cristian,
    A well thought out and presented post. It reminds me of a series of presentations I performed in front of older Australians a couple of years ago, entitled “Wellbeing”, on behalf of an organization entitled Council on the Aging. I have just checked and I still have my notes.
    :One of the points I liked to stress was the importance of having a having a goal, regardless of your age. Having a goal provides a sense of direction, a sense of purpose and something to look forward to. Many older persons find that aiming for something outside their usual behavior rather frightening.
    I used to state the fact that every journey starts with a single step, and I used a ladder leaning against the wall to illustrate the point. The more steps on the ladder made each step that much easier, and with some measure of persistence, one could achieve the goal, the top.
    In many instances the journey is even better than the destination.
    The total subject of wellbeing is indeed inclusive, with everything physical, mental and social involving a human being – nothing complicated here!
    Thanks once again for your post.
    Regards, Phil

    Liked by 1 person

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