The Darkest Depths of Mordor (AKA Second Grade)

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This probably says more about me and my lack of perseverance to become perfectly adept at things than anything else, but I have to say I always thought that artists who intentially weave or build imperfections into their work so as not to seem to be attempting to imitate God are … well, kinda arrogant.

If I ever turn out a piece of work that to me embodies total perfection, I might think, “YEAH, I nailed that,” but I’m not going to go on to believe I’m God or even godlike. I might feel like a rock star for about fifteen minutes. Or until I see someone who rocked the same type of work even harder.

So … yeah. I probably strive for perfection less than I should.

There’s this story I have about my first day of second grade. The teacher, who had a name that would serve some fantasy writer brilliantly as the name of some species vaguely stolen from the Nazgul, handed out little squares of cardboard for us to cut out templates for construction paper leaves. I somehow missed the information that the leaf had already been drawn on the cardboard and we were supposed to cut along the lines. The outline was on the reverse side of the square I got, so I just (as I so often do) dived right in and started cutting freehand.

When Mrs. Ringwraith got the drift of what I was doing, she held up my purportedly crappy leaf template and announced to the class that mine was different from anyone else’s and wrong wrong WRONG, and I’d just have to wait until some other kid got done with his or her template and I could use it to make some acceptable construction paper leaves.

(Way to just half-ass your first-day bulletin boards there, lady. Palm it off on the kids. Don’t think I don’t see what you did there.)

So acceptable art is what’s like what everyone else is doing, and all leaves happen to be maple leaves. All righty then!

Y’know, as a kid I should have been a teacher’s dream. I’m smart, I like reading and thinking, and I want to be liked by teachers, workshop leaders, etc. But Mrs. R continued to be impossible to please, and she loved to call me out in front of the whole class when I did something that wasn’t up to her specifications. Including the only F I ever got. (Which was for the time I had circled the right answers as instructed and then got so…freakin…bored waiting for everyone else to finish that I underlined all the wrong answers for something to do.

But there was one thing this woman didn’t factor in, and that’s the fact that I’m stubborn as hell and have been pretty much since I was born. So Mrs. Ringwraith, wherever you are in the afterlife, rest assured that I still freehand shit, for good or ill.

There’s art that I love that is marvelously intricate or luminous or beautifully drafted — something that makes me feel in awe of the work that went into it, and makes me wish I could do something like that. But I also love art by self-taught artists, works by outsider artists and people with a wild and strange vision that they have to impart. Not that these works can’t be incredibly intricate and beautifully crafted — witness the baseball-card sized scenes embroidered from sock thread by Ray Materson while he was in prison:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ray-Matersons-Artwork-Fine-Embroidery-Images/207733692591347

I love the energy and passion of these self-taught artists. I have some of the same tastes in music — my progression through a genre of music usually starts with what’s current and then tracks back through influences until I get to what’s a little rawer.

You won’t, however, be reading the phrase “spirituality of imperfection” anywhere but in this here post. Back when I was in publishing, I wrote flap copy for a book on this topic. All I had to work with was a ten page introduction but no actual work or outline (which did not even exist at the time), and I did the best I could. Some time later the editor showed me the authors’ response to my work, and it was one of the two snottiest author notes I ever saw. So that phrase never achieved the ring of sincerity for me.

So there you have it, a little manifesto. This probably isn’t the place to be looking for perfection, but I hope to provide some entertaining and passionate pieces, and I do promise at some point that I’ll share some of my crappier creations. They are good for a laugh, I guarantee.

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