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Revisiting the Aesthetics of Imperfection

Japanese moss garden

Musicians, academics, dancers, gardeners and architects gathered together last year in Newcastle to throw a party for ‘aesthetic imperfection’ in celebration of spontaneity, process and mistakes.

In accordance to the theme, attendees came clothed in the coloured tatters and rags of disclosures about their art. Claire, visual artist, confessed she does not really make art, and Corey revealed that he doesn’t think rationally about mistakes (for they are located in our perceptions). Phil acknowledged that he, literally and figuratively, found it hard to walk through his garden without bumping into a tree. Later, Pak Yan Lau added that she had also learned a lot by ‘bumping’ into things.

It was all about the impact beyond academia. It was vibrant.

Recall that the dictionary definition of imperfect (“faulty or incomplete”) presents a paradox that started it all: how can art be valued for being imperfect? Oft-quoted, Gioia criticised the practice of improvisation as ‘a pale imitation of the perfection attained by composed music’.

The aesthetics of imperfection has undergone greater questioning and gained maturity upon its revisitation. As a theme last year, imperfection was recommended above and distinguished from perfection. This time, the focus centred around a radical discovery: imperfection and perfection are not opposites, but intimately reliant on one another.

With a renewed sense of unearthing, I imagine ‘imperfection’ as being a universal solvent. It diminishes extremist opinions. Opinions such as the idea that composition is a form of fascism that makes the performer its servant, or that improvisation is completely rule-free. Their essential relationship, however, is epitomised in any performer’s aim to create compelling music, and their dichotomies obscured by the truth that no interpretation is mechanical reproduction, and improvisation also fights perfectionist tendencies.

Maybe Chet Baker is right: the party’s over; (or) it has never begun. Imperfection has not ‘arrived’ anywhere. This is the reason for my deep-seated fascination with this philosophy that is never finished. The musical process lasts although people, musicians and composers grow older.

The western mind seems to value the pursuit of perfection so much that imperfection is wrongly viewed as a symptom of maladjustment or negligence. We should value imperfection for itself, and not for extrinsic reasons nor as a means to an end. Imperfection is never finished, which is to say that I will never be finished thinking about it. It embodies a response to my natural state as a human being, and prevents my old opinions and prejudices from keeping alive.

About the author

Elisabet Dijkstra

Born in South Africa, Elisabet grew up in rural Kent and in Doha, Qatar before relocating to Durham where she is currently reading music at Collingwood College. 

She is the past programme editor for Durham’s MUSICON concert series and is currently studying at Sorbonne University in Paris as an Erasmus exchange student and is the appointed president of the Durham Opera Appreciation Society (2020/21). 

She is an avid reader, blogger, composer and ‘imperfectionist' in her approach to Art and life. Alongside writing for her music blog, Elisabet is a keen cross country athlete and violinist.

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