Leave Your Art Broken

I hate it when things break. There’s a part of me that cringes at the sight of a shattered glass or a broken plate. Something that will never again be as it once was. 

Yet the Japanese art of Kintsugi embraces the broken. It literally means “golden repair” or “golden scars.” When a bowl or teapot breaks, the pieces are glued back together using golden glue. In this case, not to hide the repair, but to show it off. 

The joy of the imperfect is a lesson many artists should adopt. Kintsugi reminds us that even the broken can hold great beauty. Because aren’t we, ourselves, broken in some way? Doubt plagues our minds, worrying that we might not be able to live up to our ambitions.

Kintsugi reminds me that the act of creation (whether a story or a sketch) should be for myself first. As much as I strive to get a certain sentence “right” or a line “just so” I find more and more the need to embrace the subtle flaws.

Instead of trying to hide these imperfections, hoping no one will notice my mistakes, how could I highlight them? Fill them with gold so that they shine? After all, as Billy Joel says:

“You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes
But they’re the only thing that you can truly call your own”

I’ve always clung to the idea of personal mistakes being a sign of true originality. The things we fail at can teach us the importance of not taking everything so seriously. 

Look up the word perfect in the dictionary: ideal, without fault, flawless. Is this something we can even accomplish? How much of this invisible pressure do we place on ourselves everyday, to live up to some godly standard? After all, Icarus sought the most impossible heights, yet he was only human. His wings melted and he fell to his death. 

Now, a look at antonyms for “perfect” show our distaste for anything that strays from the impossible ideal of perfection: bad, corrupt, inferior, wrong, broken. It seems like our culture is obsessed with the correctness of the perfect shape or performance. But not everyone wants to be confined to this rigid mold.

The Navajo weavers leave tiny imperfections along the borders of their rugs called ch’ihónít’i, meaning spirit line” or “spirit pathway.” The Navajo believe the weavers entwines a part of their soul into the cloth during creation. The ch’ihónít’i lets this bit of the weaver’s soul to escape the rug. 

As artists, we can deliberately create flaws into our works — set things slightly off center or pen a sentence that reads a little funny. It’s a way to remind ourselves how these flaws are part of us as well as our art.

Tim Kane

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