The Enemy of Good is Better

One of my colleagues in the ceramics studio at Coronado Clay is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. That’s his day job. As an artist, he’s a perfectionist. I watch him regard with disgust his recent creations; nothing he makes is good enough to keep.

One day while working he asked me when or how I know when a sculpture is finished. I said I never do know but I stop when I believe the piece to be good enough. If the piece seems to be working, I consider it finished and move on to the next one. I do this not because I don’t want to push myself to make the work better, but that I do not want to go too far and ruin something that is already good. I have a tendency to keep adding layers of imagery and information to my sculpture. In recent years I have been trying to pare down the work, spread the ideas a little thinner and simplify the sculptures both formally and conceptually. This is tricky for me. I am a “more is more” person.

Ceramic and stitched vinyl
“More, More, More ” Ceramic and stitched vinyl

Luckily, there is always another sculpture to make. It is in subsequent artworks in a series where I am allowed to challenge myself to take additional risks. Because I always work in series, I can exhaust an idea thoroughly and/or allow it to lead me to the next piece, always trying to improve and evolve.

My surgeon friend understood this idea. Evidently in surgery they say “The Enemy of Good is Better”. Surgeons are perfectionists. They use this phrase to remind themselves to stop when the procedure is “good” rather than invite risk by trying to make it “better”. In art or surgery, we stop before we go too far.