My early assessment ended up being more accurate that I could have imagined. One of the most fascinating things about Orlean's writing, and specifically her book "The Orchid Thief," is the way she takes this little corner of culture that is unknown to most people and uses it as a scope through which to explore a larger, more universal experience. In "The Orchid Thief," the insular world of orchid collectors gives Orlean a place to ask what it means to be passionate about something. In the zine "Meta," Kilgallen and her folk- and graffiti-inspired creations give Marissa a similar space through which to explore the virtue of the imperfect.
At first glance, the notion that imperfection is something to be embraced seems counter-intuitive, particularly in our culture, which places a high premium on perfection. Take the obvious example of the fashion magazine. The pages of these magazines feature beautiful women whose livelihoods depend on meeting a specific ideal, whose faces provide canvasses for the brushes of top make-up artists and whose bodies are sculptures upon which elegant clothing is draped. Yet the desire for perfection persists so strongly that the products of these collaborations are not enough, and the resulting photos are digitally altered until every last blemish is obliterated.
But then, what is left? The end result is often spooky and disjointed, bearing only a limited resemblance to the woman whose photograph was taken. The humanity has been erased and lightened and tinted and filtered out, and what remains has all of the warmth and allure of a video-game character.
Marissa explores this in her own career as an artist, where she struggles to overcome her need for perfection in her work in order for it to feel worth her while:
It didn't occur to me that these errors made my work more interesting; they were what identified the work as mine, separating it from all manner of things mass-produced, and making it real.This passage called to mind the Arts and Crafts movement of the latter half of the 19th century, where artists and crafters began placing high value on hand-crafted furniture, pottery and textiles. The Arts and Crafts movement was the artistic counterpart of the Progressive political movement. The adherents looked at the Industrial Revolution and its mass-produced hideousness, both in terms of aesthetics and social conditions, and sought to push back that by promoting art that was handmade and carefully crafted.
The Industrial Revolution won out, and it has been supplanted by the digital revolution, which I'd argue has further standardized our means of expression. Zine librarian Jenna Freedman writes about this in her essay "Zines are Not Blogs," about the way most bloggers use the templates provided by the platform's developers. Our Facebook pages all look the same; the only differences lie in our curation of media we like and our collection of status updates and photos.
In this way, art that is made by hand, art that resists the mandate of perfection, art that wears its flaws proudly...this all becomes a way to resist the social pressures that would prefer we spend our time and money trying to be exactly like one another. To embrace imperfect art in a world that demands nothing less of perfection can be an act of rebellion, one borne of love for the wild complexity of humanity.
I don't think it's a coincidence that Marissa writes about this - and about Kilgallen - in a zine. The title of the zine "Meta" is a nod to Kilgallen's tag name, but I also think Marissa is making a comment on zines, how they are by their very nature imperfect. The imperfection of zines - the typos, the uneven cutouts, the wavering lines - is where you see the zinester. Without those imperfections, well...the zine might as well have been created by a machine.
And what exactly does "perfection" mean, anyway? How did we decide that symmetry and smoothness were perfection, and that everything that deviated from that was a flaw? I consider this a lot in conversations about women and their bodies, how they can point out their thighs or their noses or their hair as being imperfect, and I can't help but wonder why one arbitrary standard became the standard by which we measure all other things.
I think this holds true for everything. The things that we define as "imperfect" are evidence of our unique stamp on the world, our off-kilter way of plotting a novel, our own way of composing a sentence, our specific method of drawing portraiture. They make us recognizable as individuals. They are the things that make us us.
Marissa's zine is available through her etsy shop. Obviously, I highly recommend it.