I think it’s a good thing to strive to get better. Seeking perfection is quite another matter. I’ve never seen a perfect painting. After visits to the Louvre, Musee d’ osay and the Uffizi with some quite notable collections, I’ve yet to see one.

There is a quote in the wonderful book Art + Fear by Ted Orland and David Bayles that tackles perfectionism head on…“If you think good work is somehow synonymous with perfect work, you are headed for big trouble. Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error. Inevitably, your work (like the preceding syllogism…) will be flawed. Why? Because you’re a human being, and only human beings, warts and all, make art. Without warts it is not clear what you would be, but clearly you would not be one of us.”

There are some pieces of art that seem flawless and have the reputation of being a “masterpiece”. Take the Mona Lisa for instance, which I was lucky enough to visit last month. The piece is considered to be the height of renaissance painting and is such an icon that is has become part of our culture in such a way that really no other single piece of art can lay claim to. According to Wikipedia, ” has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”.

We use so many words when it comes to art and art criticism that we forget to look and just simply respond to a piece of art at a heart level. We judge and put work into a story of words and look at it from only our own point of view. I was very dismissive of the painting; having heard of its reputation for being smaller than most people expected, I envisioned it tinier that it really is! I’d discounted the painting before I even saw it. I wondered why is it so fascinating and considered so beautiful? This had always eluded me.

I got the museum early, right when it opened more by chance since I’d slept poorly, than by design. I did plan on entering the museum by way of the glass pyramid so I could get the full effect. Upon entering, I foolishly did not have a plan in mind and certainly not to make a beeline to the Mona Lisa, but I followed the tide of people that seemed to know where they were going. Still the crowds were relatively light and so I could take in the long corridors and the Roman statues that lined them. Then I noticed the signage that guided visitors to the Mona Lisa. That’s where everyone was headed. I just followed. Before I knew it we were in the room with her. There were a few people gathered around her, but soon they dispersed, leaving me with a clear path to the front with no more selfie-taking enthusiasts in the way. It was just she and I for a few precious moments. She was breathtaking. Thrilling. Lovely beyond my imagination. I was so surprised by my reaction. And she was quite bigger than I’d expected as I’d kept diminishing my expectation of her scale with each utterance over the years that she was small.

After taking what I thought was more than my fair share of time with her, I stepped to the side and lingered for a few more minutes taking in the whole scene. After a bit I wandered to another gallery to see the other works by Leonardo Da Vinci. They are beautiful, but to me, they really don’t compare to the Mona Lisa. But is she perfect? And what is that? I don’t really have a conclusion other than the process and the inspection of it is wonderful and challenging. I do know that I was graced to really see her and let down my guard and the mound of preconceived notions I had of her. If we could only do this with all the people we meet, I think we would have a different world! Not that I’m capable in any way of doing this!

As a painter, I have to paint and leave aside all ideas of the outcome. I don’t even think about creating a “masterpiece”. That’s not in my realm at all. The only thing I try to do is to get better, paint better and communicate better about the process and leave the result to my viewer to respond to or not.

With Warmest Regards,

Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

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