The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics
by Katharine A. Cartwright
Watercolor on paper
26" x 20"
This painting is the fifth in my new series entitled "The Laws of Nature." The "Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics" states that if two bodies are in thermal equilibrium with a third body, then all three bodies are in thermal equilibrium.

Art & Fear: observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles and Orland.

In Chapter 3, the authors continue their examination of fears about ourselves by considering the role of perfectionism. Thankfully, this is not a problem that afflicts me. I'm happy to expose my flaws and embrace them as part of who I am. But, there are many who don't accept flaws and the authors offer great advice:

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.

Without warts it is not clear what you would be, but clearly you wouldn't be one of us.

The belief persists among some artists that doing art means doing things flawlessly - ignoring the fact that this prerequisite would disqualify most existing works of art.

Ansel Adams, never one to mistake precision for perfection, once noted that "the perfect is the enemy of the good."

To require perfection is to invite paralysis.

To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done.

Ultimately, perfectionism leads one to abandon artmaking with a feeling of utter discouragement. Isn't it great that we don't have to succumb to that fate if we can just embrace the flaws that make us who we are? Whew - what a relief!

What are your thoughts?


Carolyn Abrams said...

Kathy, i don't know about perfectionism but this new painting is amazing!
WOW!! I really think you outdid yourself with this one!

Mark Sheeky said...

The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics is the best in the series so far I think although I still like the gravity one too. I liked the title even better when I didn't know what it meant! Every painting should contain some mystery. There is a mysterious equilibrium of three bodies here - yes!

On perfectionism I think that errors are -fundamentally- unavoidable, even DNA and atoms contain some. I think it's part of the universe, so if that is accepted then you can be "perfect"... in a way! It seems that you and I know the trick is to accept that nothing is perfect. I like the perfection/precision quote. Thanks for that one. To be precise is my new motto.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Flaws are "soul lines."

A wonderful painting, Kathy.

Casey Klahn said...

I thought I was going to favor your first painting in this series the most. Now, I may change my mind to this one as my favorite.
Balanced. Unified. Challenging. Rigorous.

-Don said...

Are you implying that my work is not perfect!?!

Well, OK, I'll admit it - my humanity definitely shows through in my work...

There is some wonderful food for thought here. It's encouraging to know that even the greatest artists have struggled with the same issues we deal with daily.

I agree with Mark and Casey that "Zeroth..." is my favorite in your series to date. WOW! I can't take my eyes off of it.


Deborah C. Stearns said...

I agree that perfection is an unrealistic goal, and perfectionism can be a major obstacle for some people. I can be a challenge, though, to identify what constitutes "perfectionism." I don't have any hope of creating flawless work, nor do I strive for such perfection. But I do strive for excellence, and I am bothered by mistakes or imperfections. I can tolerate a few minor flaws, but if they start to pile up, I get frustrated. I notice the mistakes; I remember them for years, and they bother me. This doesn't paralyze me, but it does encourage me to stay within my strengths and it can lead me to get stuck in my process sometimes. I'm not willing to create something inferior or substandard -- but is my standard too high? Am I just kidding myself when I say I'm not a perfectionist?

Your new series has a lot of energy and movement, Kathy! I can really see the physics behind each painting.

Stan Kurth said...

Your fifth is magnifique!

I like the aesthetic philosophy behind the practice of raku, which includes imperfection as part of the art form:

Raku is a unique firing process, which was aligned with wabi-sabi an aesthetic viewpoint, with an admiration for things that are natural, imperfect or unrefined.

Wabi means things that are fresh, simple or rustic. It can also mean an accidental or happenstance element, or even imperfection which lends elegance and uniqueness to the whole.

Sabi means things whose beauty stems from age. It also stresses the appreciation of transient things and the cycles of life that give rise to change. It may refer to the quality of unpretentiousness or a kind of primitive naturalness.
_ Zoe Felix -

Dan Kent said...

Kathy, you usually have a gift for illustrating your posts with just the right picture. Today however you failed. This is because your painting is perfect. Love it.

Anyway, I've been reading along daily and then have had no time to comment, so I trying to cheat by posting this comment as the last thing I do before I leave work.

One interesting thing about this book "Art and Fear" is that I have so internalized its contents that to me it is TRUTH. So my reaction is always, "of course" and I often have little or nothing to say. But whether it is true or not, it is worth it to act as though it were true. It is helpful, for example, to believe that Talent is not the most important thing, but Effort instead. Effort I can control. Talent, I can't.

And re today's topic (finally), I love to use my imperfections in my art. I may have said this before here (I know I said it somewhere), but I use stray lines and colors. This always brings me to a different place than I expected, and makes the picture more interesting and unique. If I wanted a perfect representation, I could just use a camera. Perfection is Boring.

Unknown said...

Hi Everyone - thank you!! I truly appreciate your encouragement and support of my work. I'll start the sixth in this series tomorrow.

Hi Deborah - you raise an interesting point about standards. When do they become too high?? I'll have to think about that.

Hi Stan - thank you for providing this Eastern philosophy. It's elegant and beautiful.

Hi Dan - "perfection is boring" - AMEN!

RH Carpenter said...

Kathy, I haven't chosen a favorite from your current series - they all blow me away with their intricacy and visual interest that keeps me looking and looking and looking :) Perfection? Yes, I think we can get caught up and I know many artists who, in trying to be perfect in their painting (whatever that is), are never satisfied or happy with anything they do. I think they are missing the point of our humanity showing through. I certainly know a lot of my humanity shows through, whether it's as I'm learning or when I finish a painting. I guess I never strive for perfection because it's just one more struggle I won't win! ha ha

Unknown said...

Hi Rhonda- it's a wise person who knows which battles to fight. Perfecionism isn't one of them :-)

Elizabeth Seaver said...

Incredible work, Katharine. I'm always amazed by your accomplished style and erudite vision.

Celeste Bergin said...

I love the painting that you used in this may be simplistic to say--but it reminds me of film reels and the shapes and colors reminds me of Fritz Lang's movie: Metropolis.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Elizabeth and Celeste!

-Don said...

Nice reference, Celeste! I can see what you mean. The only color I can remember from that movie, though, was in the poster. I went to the theatre to see the re-release of Metropolis with Giorgio Moroder's soundtrack back in 1984 and was BLOWN AWAY. I wish they'd release that version on DVD. The music took it to a new level...

Kathy, I still can't take my eyes off of this one...