Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Imperfection as Completion: What a Concept!

Marcel Duchamp sculpture, Philadelphia Museum of Art



Recently, I read about Marcel Duchamp's artwork at the Philadelphia Art Museum. The story goes that when he shipped it to the museum, the glass cracked in transit. When the museum told him about the damage he said, "Now it is complete." I've seen this Duchamp piece in the past, and I had assumed that the cracks were made intentionally, not because of an accident.

I started thinking about Duchamp's flexibility of mind, his willingness to accept what came his way. Most artists wouldn't have reacted like Duchamp I suspect. He was a pioneer in conceptual art, and was famous for putting a ready made urinal on display as sculpture. His art doesn't appeal to everyone, but I like this incorporation of imperfection into the whole.

I can just imagine that if I were Duchamp, and my perfectionistic OCD was in gear, I would've spent a lot of energy checking the cracks, visualizing how the piece looked before it broke and comparing it in my mind, reassuring myself that the fractures did enhance the piece, going over all the conversations with the museum curator verbatim, wondering if I really did believe the cracks completed the work, or whether I was a bad person for presenting myself as a conceptual artist when in fact I wasn't sure if it was truly conceptual. . .and on and on.

Checking perceived flaws consumed a lot of my time from my teens onward, from slightly off center buttons to one stitch bigger than the others or a tiny scratch. No matter how small the "flaw" it appeared huge in my mind, and took over my whole field of vision, and became all I saw. Exposures for this kind of perfectionism included wearing the shirt, and not checking the buttons, or listening to scripts I wrote about maybe never enjoying my item because of the scratch, that it would haunt me, and always be the first thing I saw, and then listening to it until I could tolerate it, and even accept it. Marcel Duchamp would've needed a script about whether art critics would degrade his work because the cracks were too disfiguring. . .but I don't think he had OCD, and there's even a photo of him standing proudly in front of the glass.

10 comments:

  1. I like the incorporation of imperfection too. I can't say I would have reacted as the artist did either. I would have gone over and over what happened and how I could have prevented the break. And I would have focused on the flaw, too, instead of the whole work.

    A good lesson here. Sometimes I get hung up on perceived imperfections that just don't matter in the grand scheme of things. For example, if I'm starting notes for an interview I'm doing and have a "scratch out," I'll tear out the piece of notebook paper and start over. Sometimes I stop myself though.

    Great post!

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    1. Tina--OCD has so many forms! I can see that being part of how I'd react as well--"I could've prevented this. How did this happen? What did I do" and going over the whole process in my mind. I'm glad sometimes you stop yourself from starting over--that's a great exposure.

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  2. Wow, what a great post. Thank you for sharing that. I KNOW I would not have reacted the way the artist did, but talk about going with the flow! Stuff happens and life sure is a lot less painful if we don't fight every little thing. This is something I'm definitely going to have to think about.

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    1. Yeah, this really made me think ever since I read about it.

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  3. This is a great reminder of how real life always has the last word :) It brings to mind something my husband does both to make me laugh an to get me to calm down about my fear of things touching the floor or ground. Once we were camping and I dropped a still-wrapped pop tart on the ground. I was sad because now I couldn't eat it. My husband bounced over picked it up, opened it, an shoved it into his mouth saying, "Hey! You dropped it! That makes it tastier!" He started dropping things intentionally and then eating them. It actually worked, and I've eaten a few things like that, myself. So sometimes it just isn't 'complete' until you drop it :)
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

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    1. Your husband and my husband would get along! Love this!

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  4. OMG - my anxiety would just hit turbo-overdrive if this happened to me. I would be rushing over there like a rocket and start inspecting the thing for days (if not months) to see if there was any way I could fix it.

    If somehow I can't get it back to the original state absolutely perfectly - in my mind this thing would be ruined.... RUINED!!! And I would have heavily cursed and sued the museum for having destroyed my perfect piece of art that I had spent so many loving months making to my original vision.

    This artist has something I desperately need - and that's the mental flexibility. Cause it is really god-awful tiring to keep everything I own and make so perfect and undamaged :(

    Would you guys call this serious OCD perfectionism?

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  5. I have this same problem, of wanting everything I buy to be perfect and free from imperfections, its so consuming and exhausting. I didn't think other people suffered with this too. I wish I could stop it as its taking over my life.

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    1. Welcome Anonymous. I remember being surprised that other people had the experience of looking for imperfections. Making recorded scripts to listen to on my ipod really helped ~ Jon Grayson's book Freedom from OCD has information on how to do "imaginal exposure" and create scripts to desensitize you to the feared consequences of imperfections.

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  6. This blog is just a wonderful read. There is so much misinformation and generalization out there in relation to OCD/pure O anxiety. It's nice to open up the blog to hear peoples stories. Not every sufferer washes their hands to scab and collects dust mites in baggies. It's complex and complicated obsessive themes dictated by our personal situation/circumstances and uniqueness. Simplifying it a bit the underlying theme is the (at times) debilitating anxiety associated with our mindset.

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