Imperfections and mistakes often bring character to an art or craft work that greatly enhances its appeal and sometimes its aesthetic qualities. Spontaneous chemical reactions can have extremely pleasing effects such as the transition of bronze from gleaming yellow to its exquisite green brown patina in reaction to the elements. Ceramic artists have long recognised these effects and await the opening of the kiln with a mixture of excitement and dread. Glazes can be transformed by the intense heat to glittering jewels or dull brown shards in an instant, depending on factors that are sometimes beyond the control of the potter.

Ultraviolet light and X-rays have given us insight into the mistakes of famous painters whose decision-making processes may be coloured by random effects of composition or colour. Some artists such as Jackson Pollock and Howard Hodgkin have intentionally tried to explore these spontaneous effects by creating artworks that are driven by their subconscious, rather than their conscious thoughts.

It is interesting to contrast these works with those of artists who go to the other extreme and try to control every brushstroke and shade to produce perfection. Euan Uglow’s and William Coldstream’s measurement systems, ensuring accuracy and aiding proportion, can often still be seen in the final works, blatantly demonstrating their concern with precision. Superrealist artists toy with our perceptions of reality by bringing the entire picture plane into focus, something that the eye is incapable of.

Rodin’s battles to achieve perfection can be seen in his unfinished figurative marble sculptures, many of which he consciously chose to leave as if the figures are attempting to draw themselves out from the raw materials. Flaws and imperfections in the natural stone were embraced and acknowledged in the final composition.

Japanese artists always realised that discordant elements and imperfections can actually enhance the aesthetic characteristics of any work and this is reflected in their philosophy of Wabi Sabi. Leonard Koren defines this as “the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty”.

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