Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Beauty of Imperfection

Matt Hoyle
I started down an interesting internet trail the other day.  In my Google Reader, I found a blog post about the work of an artist named Matt Hoyle.  He's a photographer, and he had done a series centering on an imaginary town of retired circus performers.  I followed the trail to his website, and discovered a link to a video he had done for a TEDx Talk (posted below).

I don't know if any of you watch many of the TED Talks, but they can be fascinating.  Mr. Hoyle was presenting on the idea of beauty in imperfection.  He said that we, as human beings, are attracted to symmetry and balance, and that "beautiful" people actually have a "look" that fits a specific formula passed down from the Greeks.

He goes on to say that we humans find things that are beautiful to literally be "easy on the eyes."  It's more comfortable for our brains to process the input we see when we look at beautiful people--they fit the formula we're mentally used to and our brains get to work less.  When things don't fit that formula--like wrinkles or disproportionate features, or asymmetrically balanced facial structure--our brains have a harder time processing the input we see.  We react negatively.  Thus we interpret things as "ugly".

Matt Hoyle
Matt Hoyle
So Mr. Hoyle's work about the circus performers heavily comments on how we define "beautiful" and "ugly".  Indeed, most of the work he finds intriguing isn't about photographing the "beautiful people", but in revealing the character and inner story of "non-beautiful" people.  Sharing the wrinkles, the freckles, the unbalance of the features of us regular every day Joe Shmoe's...

But beyond this, Mr. Hoyle mentions something called "Wabi Sabi".  I'd never heard of this.  It's a Japanese concept, with part of it's philosophical tenants based in the beauty of intransigence, of the temporary and the ephemeral.  From the Wikipedia page:

"Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West."[1] "if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi."[2] "[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."[3]

Luis Sanchez
Urban Don
Windrock Studios
This hit me pretty hard.  I immediately thought of crafting and of the current interest in Assemblage as a trend.  Much of our contemporary craft and art is not about making things perfect--it's actually about celebrating the opposite...  The rising interest in primitive and folk art, of deconstructed clothing, of "naive" (non-traditionally educated) art, of rustic and rough expressions, of antiqued finishes and nostalgic presentation...  These are all celebrating the imperfect by helping us as viewers appreciate the broken/distressed/melancholy/dirty elements of the past and celebrating it's aesthetic beauty that remains even through the passage of time.  It is celebrating it's transitory nature.

So much of our expression today is about looking beyond the surface to something more than the substance of it's parts.  But do we know that?  Do we recognize that we are doing it so naturally?  Do we see why that kind of work is so appealing to us?  Are we conscious of it?  Or do we simply accept it as a "style" without being able to articulate why we're attracted to it?

Judy's Fabrications
Primitive Doll
The Joy of Nesting
Or, on a more perplexing note, has commercialism co-opted our expression and skipped over it's philosophic undertones and foisted a "formula" on the style?  Are they "packaging" the rustic and primitive nature of contemporary craft and art?  With our plentiful crackling mediums and distressing inks available, and our inclination toward retro attire and upcycling, are we incidentally diluting the appreciation of beauty by deprecating it to a process of simple manipulation?

I don't think so.  It's easy to think it's that way, but I know too many people creating too many beautiful and thought provoking things to write off their creativity as simply relying upon a process to do it for them.  I think we're all searching and yearning for something deeper than what's on the outside, striving to express that we are all more than the sum of our parts.  That life is more than what's apparent on the surface.  That spirit exists beyond what we can see with our eyes--that we have to feel it with our hearts.

Does any of this make sense?  Haha!!

I haven't posted in a while, because I felt that anything I could potentially post was simply a marketing gimmick, and would be patently inauthentic.  I wasn't excited about anything enough to share it, and I didn't want to post for the sake of posting.  There's too much of that nowadays.  I don't want to become part of that crowd and waste my readers' time.  I can't stick to a perfect schedule of posting.  I can't turn my inspiration off and on like that.

I want to celebrate the imperfect.

And Live Life with Relish.

TEDxDubai 2010| Matt Hoyle from Giorgio Ungania on Vimeo.

Top three black and white images by Matt Holye via press from Matt Holy blog.
Luis Sanchez image by ellenm1 via Flickr.  Creative Common License.
Urban Don Image from Urban Don blog.
Windrock Studio Image from Windrock Studio blog.
Primitive Doll image by peregrine blue via Flickr.  Creative Common License.
The Joy of Nesting image from The Joy of Nesting blog.
Judy's Fabrications image from Judy's Fabrications blog.


  1. Wonderful post Cory. I could not put in words what I feel but no one could have done it better. This society is sucking us into standards that god knows who invented and called them the right thing'. Anyway, beauty is everywhere for those who are willing to see it. Even if sparingly, please do share with us just like in this post! :)

  2. Karla, thank you so much for your kind words!! I have to say, the stuff that I'm seeing on your own blog is STUNNING!! I hope you continue to share, too, because you're a huge inspiration for me!! : )


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