Is Good Good Enough?

“…the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your  current piece.”                                                                                                                                                                       Art and Fear

Lavora, Lavora

Sixty work days have passed since the stone arrived from Indiana. During that time, I have worked in a variety of elements. There was a hurricane, a flood and a snow storm in which I was so mesmerized by the beautiful, big flakes I did not pay attention to  the accumulation. It took 2 hours to drive the 16 miles home.



From November to mid February, temperatures hovered around freezing. As the humidity drops,   the metal head on the sculpture hammer loosens on its wooden handle. To re-tighten the head, you soak the hammer in water so the wood will swell. One night, I left my hammer soaking in the bucket. The next morning, it was embedded in ice.

The rumble of thunder has also been a daily occurrence. The metal roof under which I work reverberates in the wind. The Beaufort Scale relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land.  It describes near gale force winds as –“ Whole trees in motion. Effort needed to walk against the wind. Cars veer off road “… and blows limestone dust – everywhere (my note).

Fare una passeggiata

Everyday, I walk around the work space trying to get reception on my radio. If the clouds are heavy, I listen to Country Music. It’s Oldies if the wind is coming from the west. On clear days, it’s NPR. Because I never understood the magic of radio waves (nor how planes stay in the sky), I fare una passagiata using my radio like a divining rod, dowsing for a radio station.

Diane Rehm’s guest this week was Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead outlines issues that need to be addressed for women to be leaders.

In between intermittent grinding and hammering noises, I listen to their conversation. While describing her leadership style, Sandberg said:  Done is better than Perfect.


“Fears about art making fall into two families: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.” Art and Fear

The image of Liber has emerged but there are still more layers of stone to peel back. Every time I think I am done, another unresolved section appears. And that process spirals around itself – like the proverbial onion – until the deadline arrives.


My art journey began when someone asked me during a workshop icebreaker: Who are you? I responded: a woman, a daughter, a sister, a sculptor. But I had never sculpted. So I started.

For the past 20 years, my identity has been determined by what I create. After years of questioning my talent, doubting my commitment, and feeling like a pretender, I still have a hard time answering – ‘an artist’ – when asked who am I.

My license plate reads: Isculpt. The plate is like wearing a very big nametag. My truck registration is up for renewal. The cost of a vanity plate has increased. And I wonder: if I don’t renew the plate, will I still answer – a sculptor – when asked who I am?


Artists are their own worst critics. The voices  we carry from our past – from our families, our community and our experiences – color our current perceptions. The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle. Acceptance means having the artwork seen as “real art.”; approval means having people like it.

Once installed, Liber will be on view for at least 100 years. It will be my legacy. I want both approval and acceptance.  I want it to be perfect.

Abbastanza buono?

I am learning to kayak. In preparation for this summer’s adventure, I decided to make my own Greenland Paddle. A Greenland paddle is a paddle in the style of those traditionally used by the Inuit of Greenland. It is made from wood and its form is more like a stick than a conventional looking paddle. I sculpt. It didn’t seem that it would be that difficult to ‘sculpt’ a paddle.

I signed up for an 8-hour workshop with the Hudson River Greenland Paddlers after which (as promised in the brochure) I’d have a custom paddle by the end of the day.

Using a straight edge, measuring tape, a draw knife, a plane, and some elbow grease, I proceeded to create my custom paddle from a 7 foot x 4 inch piece of Oregon cedar.

Just as I completed “carving” the loom, the draw knife slipped. There was now a gouge in my heretofore “perfect” paddle. I wanted to stop. The instructor told us he had made more than 600 paddles – each one an improvement on the previous. My beautiful paddle – with one small imperfection – was no longer good enough to me.

Why isn’t Good – Good Enough?

Advertizing is based on the notion that good isn’t good enough. There is always a new and improved version of something that currently works fine as it is. But we are all susceptible to the lure of the better version of a product, our homes, our relationships and ourselves.

Schools, in an attempt to make children feel better about report cards, changed the A – E system (C being good) to one that required teacher comments. Overtime a ‘C’ was always followed by the comment: Needs Improvement. C became unacceptable and equivalent to a failing grade. Good wasn’t good enough.

Culture of Discontent

We apply this same principle to our relationships. Most of the habits or traits that my friends complain about in their partners are the same characteristics that initially attracted them.

  • Free spirited becomes irresponsible
  • Steadfast becomes boring
  • Self assured becomes close minded

There is even a book titled: Loving an Imperfect Man (Woman). Perfectionism seems to be deeply rooted in the expectations we have of, not only others, but of ourselves. Amazon lists 106 paperback books with the word ‘Perfectionism’ in the title. There is even one entitled: The Gifts of Imperfection. There are no books entitled: Good is Good Enough.

Ben Fatto

I finished carving the paddle, filled the small gouge with a little epoxy, and applied linseed oil liberally. My paddle is now a topic of conversation. And I have bragging rights. It works just fine (actually it works great; I need more practice.) The ‘mistake’ is a reminder of my journey – learning that ‘good’ is good enough. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weavers of Oriental carpets create intentional imperfections as do Navaho rug makers. Each culture believes perfection can only be achieved by the Great Creator. It is hubris for an artist to believe they can create a perfect work.

The “Done is better than perfect” interview between Diane Rehm and Sandberg continued. The author then added:  “At Facebook, we put products up and we try to learn and do better….we have a very iterative style …the process of not trying to do things til they are absolutely perfect but putting them out there and getting feedback, has served us well.”

I have 20 more work days before Liber is to be installed. The members of the CCPL Sculpture Garden committee are coming to review the progress and provide input for changes.  It is a challenge to be both an innovator and an interpreter and create a vision for the community –  but that is my work.

The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes, without emotional expectations.  Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen…

Art and Fear


14 comments on “Is Good Good Enough?

  1. Elizabeth Ashby says:

    Mix salt in with the water it won’t set


    Elizabeth Ashby
    M: 0403139604
    H: 03 9764 5772.

    Sent from my iPad2

  2. Peg says:

    Great blog Jo! We are funny creatures aren’t we? You said it so well. If we didn’t worry about the enough part, look at all the time and energy we would have to do, complete or even contemplate. Good is simply good on it’s own merit to any one and girl, you are good!

  3. Sandy Oxx says:

    I think you need to change your license plate to “WRITER”

    Sandy Oxx Executive Director Carroll County Arts Council 410.848.7272 x16

  4. Larry says:

    I wonder, as do others it would appear, that when you “finish” this sculpture would not the book inside of you now be your next adventure. I would not want the inner voice of a fear to write a less than perfect book or the fear of doing it in conformity to the expectations of others be a derailer for you. (smile).

    An Army general named Shoemaker once stated something in consort with your narration in this email “that perfection is the enemy of the excellent”. Maybe, more in line with your own words, it would read “perfection is the enemy of the good enough”. Personally, I favor the excellent in your case and that would seem acheivable for you. Thanks for sharing, Jo.

  5. Claire says:

    Thanks for the update. Was just going to inquire. I am heading that way on Good Friday, arrive 4 days after. Can’t wait to see the work! Installs are so exciting!!

  6. Sharon Myer says:

    so good to read your thoughts and know some of your process. I am happy to know that you will be kayaking as it is one of my greatest pleasures to be out on the water in my kayak. Hope you love it and treasure your beautiful paddle!

  7. Amy says:

    Will you post the date/time for the install? We’d love to come see Liber when it’s finished. Hope all is well.

  8. Lynne Mason says:

    Wonderful post- well written, personal, and got talent sister!.
    I have been thinking about perfection alot too.
    I love this quote.
    “Do not sacrifice the good on the altar of perfection.”
    12 steppers talk about perfection being an issue for those with addictions.Black and white thinking -no gray-either perfect or bad no good enough
    I loved the Sandberg article in Time magazne and sent it to my godchild.
    I think your license plate could be Isculpt&write or Iamartist or artist or creator.
    Love lynne your proud sister
    PS please announce time and date and address of installation so we can send our blessings directly there for those far away or so your friends who can travel can come.

  9. Lisa says:

    Enjoyed this entry immensely. I’ve always said you’re a storyteller! Best of luck sculpting in the weeks ahead — know that there are daffodils beneath today’s snow.

  10. margaret dowell says:

    Once again, your post speaks to the “artist” in us all – I see the quest for “perfection” (however one may define it) in art students at all age levels. A mentor once told me to let others write the biography – giving them the good, the bad and the ugly gives them something with which to work. Thanks for your continued insights – BRAVO!

  11. Ingrid Willenz-Isaacs says:

    As usual, inspired and intrigued reading your bilingual blog. Nice Italian touches, and good reminders to the artist in each of us. I love the paddle story and its relationship to sculpture.

  12. Ditto all the above comments re your writing talent, and the potential for word-sculpting as a next adventure for you. I especially love the image of you “farendo (?) una passagiata” in the studio to find good (enough?) radio reception — resonates with my studio experience…. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll forward your blog to my critique group, as we discuss some of the same issues and I know they would enjoy your textual perambulations.

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  14. granite countertops edmonton
    Thanks, you guys that is a great explanation. keep up the good work..

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