As observed around us, there’s natural beauty in what’s irregular and whimsical. What is often appealing in balance and form does not necessitate absolute precision, and all things faultless are not necessarily what we deem the most beautiful or desirable. Consider the countless examples of form and symmetry offered in nature, so often without regard to precise measurement, or if we dare, “imperfections.” Variations in height, depth, width, color, and texture are not garnered as flaws, as if misformed or in error, but beheld as beautiful and distinctive, possessing extraordinary character. Yet endeavoring to infuse such distinctive imprecision into our work causes us to wince in discomfort as we focus on maintaining a measurement of exactness and distress over “inaccuracy.” If beauty can be so wonderfully, flawlessly imperfect, how then exactly do we define “flawlessness” and “imperfection”?
Consider trees possessing their own inner logic and intelligence that each affects a trunk held up by roots and which culminates in branches and leaves. Yet, not only are all trees that follow these dictates dissimilar to each other, there are none that are perfectly round, or perfectly straight, or perfectly full, but each, utterly beautiful in and of itself. Would a forest have the same charm if all of its trees grew entirely symmetrical? Would a vista be as captivating without such variation and “flaws”? On a micro-level, what if the bark or the wood grain of each tree was utterly predictable every time? Would that be appealing to us?
What about furniture made from this very same wood? Even though a table is designed to be uniform and square, we still cherish the beauty and variation of the natural wood grain that is now highlighted within the context of this imposed form. The established dimensions that produce multiple versions of the same table might all outwardly appear similar, but would actually be unique and beautifully different, at the same time. We tend to see this as character and charm, rather than any form of imperfection.
Let’s start by realizing that artistic imperfection does not equate to error or a lowering of standards, which might be customary to think in regards to less artistic pursuits. I’m not suggesting some sort of musical anarchy or dissension, or that mistakes are just “ok.” You see, we’re not talking about mistakes or errors here, and we’re certainly not going out of our way to purposely introduce oversight or miscalculation. That would only produce a contrived, over-written result, not an inspired one.
- developing in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristic of living organisms; arising as a natural outgrowth.
- Fine Arts. of or relating to the shapes or forms in a work of art that are of irregular contour and seem to resemble or suggest forms found in nature.
Our focus as artists should therefore not so much be about creating beauty but upstaging what is already beautiful, allowing it to express itself organically and work toward not allowing any obscurity. This leads to this very notion of “Flawless Imperfection.” That is, the idea that beauty is often found when we remove imposed and false ideas of perfection, as we might define, and allow our medium to merely exist more organically. The result? Musical thought that is fresh and inspired, sounding as though it was meant to be written and not forced into being.
Which leads me to two observations; it seems a great many works that genuinely stand-out as brilliant, beautiful, and inspired have a tendency to not be so cautious, or safe in their approach. In addition, items bearing such attributes often contain a degree of “imperfection” or variation that adds character, of which a “precise” approach would not yield.
Perhaps your ear is telling you to use a particular chord progression, but your training and habits are making you second guess it because what your ear wants is not musically “correct,” for whatever reason. Maybe there’s a dissonance or “flaw” in a melodic idea you have that would cause you to immediately dismiss the idea of employing it, but yet it sounds good to you. There could be a harmony or counterpoint idea that seems to flow and work, but every musical training-fiber within you is screaming “wrong,” “no!” And yet, musical inspiration hits you involving a perfectly symmetrical set of ideas that looks so good on paper and seem to make so much sense, but no matter how much you massage it, it just doesn’t work. Amidst these conflicts and your insistence on what’s “right,” the temptation to over-align, over-smooth, over-square, over-straighten, overcompensate, and over-correct, rage on, and what is ideally organic and flawlessly imperfect is potentially replaced with what is sterile, unnatural, and typically less appealing.
Stay tuned for Part II where we explore these important concepts, further.
Marc J Stasio is an east-coast based composer/arranger, pianist, educator, and author who actively lives out his calling producing scores for hire, serving as collegiate jazz faculty and performing abroad for nearly 40 years. His work is heard on recordings by today's top artists in jazz and contemporary music. As professor of jazz studies, he specializes in teaching composition and arranging based on “the Hidden Score,” with a dedicated blog by that title. Marc holds a B.M. in Arranging and a Masters degree in Jazz Studies. Visit http://marcstasio.com.
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