Nature’s no ordinary artist. It has its own formula to create beauty. From the patterns on pineapple cones to body markings on penguins, from planetary alignments to spiralling galaxies, the universe adopts the golden ratio in its creations. And guess what. The way tree branches form isn’t as random as we might think. It follows the Fibonacci sequence! No wonder this pattern is known as ‘the divine proportion’. Clearly, nature has mastered the art of making things perfect.
Where beauty and perfection are concerned, Leonardo Da Vinci is not very far behind. The 15th century painter is widely recognised and celebrated for his works ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, ‘The Last Supper’, and ‘The Vitruvian Man’. Da Vinci would actually study the human body to bring about precision in his figure painting, so that his subjects would be as life-like as possible. Needless to say, Da Vinci was particular about not displaying his works until he’d achieved very high levels of excellence.
Art historians remark that the Mona Lisa is a highly polished work of art and yet, Da Vinci had never stopped ‘finishing’ it, right until his death! Perfection was so important to him that he’s known to have said: “Details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail.” There’s a reason this legendary painter’s artistic reputation rests on such a small body of work: he was a perfectionist. According to psychologist Tishya Mahindru Shahani, it’s this compulsive need to produce exemplary work that drives a person to seek perfection. She says, “Perfectionism is a personality trait that makes an individual strive for flawlessness.”
Those who aspire for perfection maintain that practising for ‘the ideal’ is an effective way to improve themselves constantly. Carnatic musician Mangala Karthik believes singers require such convictions. She says, “It’s all in precision. You either hit a note perfectly or you don’t. So, the standard that my gurus set for me was a glorious aim to aspire for. It motivated me to do better.”
Mangala’s got a point. Perfection can indeed be a very good motivator. In fact, leadership coach Geoff Watts in his Tedx Talk Balance your perfectionism to be creative, observes that people who are perfectionistic are very reliable for their quality and consistency. He believes perfectionism can have its downside, but also that it can be a really good trait. So, perfectionism is certainly not something we want to get rid of, he says.
However, as Watts acknowledges, perfectionism can lead to extreme self-criticism. The pursuit of perfection can make people magnify their own mistakes. It was certainly true of graphic designer Dania Zafar. She confesses she’s a recovering perfectionist. “I was the sort of person who would be haunted by mistakes I make in my work. I’d be very harsh with myself for any lack in my skills,” she shares. But after she listened to the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about perfection in an interview, Dania began to see merit in the idea that whether or not she becomes “great” at something, she can always get better at it. To her, perfection is all about striving for excellence.