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Shine: Beauty in Imperfection

Perfection is not a Prerequisite for Beauty

Glacier Cross by Margaret Almon
Glacier Cross by Margaret Almon. Glass on slate, with HMB Studios bead in the center, $221.

Do you plan to listen to something and then put it off?  I listen to podcasts in the studio, and I have meditation teacher Tara Brach on my list, and yet don’t get around to listening.  But I couldn’t resist the title of this episode, Relating Wisely with Imperfection. She describes how we react to imperfection in ourselves with anxiety and aversion, and how this creates a trance of unworthiness.  I am well acquainted with this trance, and how hard it is to break free of it.

Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.  ~Danna Faulds

Tara Brach read this line of poetry and it resonated.  Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.  I have many years of believing that perfection is the prerequisite for everything.  The talk begins with a story from Ed Brown, Buddhist and baker, about his struggle to make perfect biscuits.  He realized that he was attempting to recreate biscuits from a can or a mix, that if he actually tasted his own recipe, the biscuits were delicious. What should our lives be like?  I believed I needed to have a book of poems published by the time I was 30.   In my 30’s I believed I should have a “real career” rather than being a part time librarian.  I believed that not having children meant I was outside the human story, even though I never felt called to have children. In making mosaics in my 40’s, I realized that this was my delicious life, and it was my own.

The chunks of glass in the photo are factory seconds of gold smalti.  They are hard to come by since the factory strives to produce glass with the gold evenly applied, but these are my favorite because of the variations in texture.  Beauty in imperfection.

Shine: Beauty in Imperfection

Glacier Cross on Etsy

Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon

Trusting the Artist Self

Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon
Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon, glass, gold smalti, ceramic, 6×6 inches, ©2015

The individual pieces that make up a mosaic are called tesserae, and making a topography of tesserae is restorative to my soul. Especially in orange.  Sometimes I get this longing to make something without knowing how it will turn out.  My artist self can be very astute and wise in the studio, in ways that are much more difficult for me when out of the studio.

Out of the studio, I expect myself to know how things will turn out, in advance, in omniscience, in complete certainty.  Then I notice the impossibility of this, and often have sharp words for myself about being perfectionistic, and then if I am paying attention, I will notice this as well, and grant myself a moment of grace.

There are ways in which this patchwork trivet is imperfect.  It is bumpy, with crooked edges, and scratches, gaps in the grout, and unevenness of color in the finish of the frame.  Perhaps you catch yourself thinking, “But I like that it looks like it was made by hand instead of a machine” or maybe you see the whole rather than the individual tesserae.  This is when my wise artist self says, “You like this and if it has to meet some imaginary idea of perfect, you won’t make any art at all.  So what shall you choose?”

Patchwork in my Etsy Shop.

More ponderings in these posts:

The Beauty of Imperfection: Hozho

The Perfect Imperfections: Wabi Sabi


Miyabi Quilt by Matsuko Shiraishi

Miyabi Quilt by Matsuko Shiraishi: Elegance in Orange

Miyabi Quilt by Matsuko Shiraishi
Miyabi Quilt by Matsuko Shiraishi at the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, 2014. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

This quilt introduced me to the concept of Miyabi, a traditional Japanese aesthetic combining elegance and sorrow.  Matsuko Shiraishi describes how the quilt is made of wedding Kimono fabric, and that wedding ceremonies are a combination of those two emotions.  To see the whole quilt, which takes on the shape of a Kimono, there’s a great photo of Matsuko Shiraishi’s work on the gladiquilts site.

Having words to describe different forms of beauty helps me look at things more closely and contemplatively.  I have written about Wabi Sabi and Hozho, and the beauty of imperfection,  but Miyabi was new to me.  The Kimono fabric is definitely elegant, with metallic thread and a silky sheen.

What defines elegant for you?

The Perfect Imperfections: Wabi Sabi and Mosaic Art

River of Life Cross Mosaic on Slate
River of Life Cross Mosaic on Slate by Margaret Almon

Jenny Hoople over at Authentic Living has a cool post on The Beauty of Imperfection–Wabi Sabi, where she describes the Japanese philosophy of the beauty of our transitory world, where everything decays, and is all the more precious for it.  I’ve explored the Navajo concept of Hozho, and like Wabi Sabi, it captures much of what I love about mosaics.  Jenny uses natural materials in her jewelry, knitting and other arts, and loves the accidental veins of color in stones and I resonated with her question:

I think a lot of people feel this way, but perhaps we are a minority?  If we weren’t, then diamonds wouldn’t be so popular.  I’m always amazed by the gems and minerals collections in museums, those rough rocks with brilliant splashes of color and interesting crystal formations.  What’s even more amazing is that the perfect, cut gems draw a bigger crowd, are kept in a special dark room with lights for better viewing, and are supposed to be worth more.  That is so weird.

I am part of this probable minority.  I love gold smalti, the fabulous Italian chunks of glass with an exquisitely thin layer of gold sandwiched under a layer of colored glass, but I love the gold smalti “nails” even more–seconds from the factory, and are irregular, chipped, scratched, crazed leftovers.  They are hard to get because the smalti factories pride themselves on making firsts.

I started the River of Life Cross without knowing it would have a river in it.  I was using gold nails, with a base of aqua glass.  As I pulled out the most compelling pieces, I realized that some of the gold was completely missing in places, and could flow together like a river of pure watery blue through the body of the cross.  I listened to the the missing places, the imperfections and flaws, and let them shine forth in their own Wabi Sabi beauty.

This is how I imagine God seeking us in our imperfections, seeking our creativity and human loveliness in the midst of decay.  What is your favorite imperfection in your world?

Related Post:

The Beauty of Imperfection:  Hozho

The Beauty of Imperfection:Hozho

Floating Weft Mosaic by Nina Solomon and with Heidi Dauphin and in Collaboration with D Y Begay
Artists: Nina Solomon with Heidi Dauphin In Collaboration with weaver D Y Begay Floating Weft Mosaic, Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona 2008 Dimensions: H 5.5’ x W 30’ x D 1’ Materials: Styrofoam/concrete/fiberglass form, handmade tiles. Work commissioned by: The Heard Museum


“. . .the principle of harmony that includes natural variation in size and form. . .Because you are a human being and not a machine, your stitches will display at least some subtle variation.  Together, one way or another, you and your yarn will create hozho, and hozho is fascinating. . .Sunlight also provides hozho–at any given moment of the day, our familiar world will look slightly different due to variations of light and placement of shadow.”  Deborah Bergman p.204-205, The Knitting Goddess.

When I read this, I felt a thrill of recognition, an articulation of what I love about making mosaics–the landscape of textures, the gradations of color, of light, not perfect, not even.  And then I found this mosaic at Weaving in Beauty, Floating Weft, designed by the Navajo Weaver D.Y. Begay, in collaboration with mosaic artist Nina Solomon for the Heard Museum!

Begay comments in a newspaper article, “I didn’t want a mural that was flat and polished. I wanted it to have a dimensional effect, giving it an undulating formation, and to try and capture what you would see in the yarn itself.”

Related Post:

The Perfect Imperfections:  Wabi Sabi