When is a painting finished? I have been working on an abstract painting for weeks, much longer than usual and I am still not convinced it is finished. I thought it was, twice already and stepped away. When I came back to it I saw reason to re-address,with a small improvement that expanded into one all-nighter after another. (And, that’s not good for my health). I am again uncertain. I must step away and go back to it. I may title the painting “Marathon” because it had a long way to meet the finish line. When will it be done? Anxiety about it won’t help.
It is a question that irks most artists. Sometimes it is unknown and artists must boldly decide to stop or to push forward and do more. There is always a tweaking that seems like it will help perfect the piece, to me. Touch up here, touch up there, lighten this color, darken this, line here needs clarifying, etc. It could be an excellent slow process of contemplation and mastery, or a destructive modus operandi, when spontaneity is what your style evokes. That is all a conundrum for the artist to consider. Often I have “overdone” a finished painting. It is like burning a fried egg. You have the gestation of and idea (the egg) and you execute your idea (scramble the egg) and then you rework parts and feel it is done. You put it in a pan to fry and then you walk away and come back to it and repeat and by the time you look again, (the egg is burnt) and you ruined your creation.
It is a universal dilemma. Should I do a little more? When do I know it is done?
You can ask other people you trust, particularly fellow artists, or you can trust yourself and “go with your gut feeling” and that is usually my choice. It is the artist who “knows” and it is the artist’s right to destroy and redo. The artist is playing at being a god and that is s liberating and powerful about being an active artist. An artist must be instinctual, intuitive and confident. One cannot rely on the whims and tastes of an ever-changing populace. I’ve resigned myself to expectation I will be famous again (as I was in high school), This time it may be when I’m gone. Not that fame matters on a deeper level of experience. Who are those people who’d love my work so much that they’s make me famous by demanding to meet me, and to own my artwork? Strangers, people who chase a fanciful image and belief about oneself that isn’t real. Reality matters. Not realistic painting, necessarily, but realistically assessing one’s own style, talent and skill and perfecting one’s craft as an artist. That is what you can do for yourself, as you develop as an artist. Judges are not one’s true critics. They are each a flash in the pan. When you win a ribbon, it’s gives you a high, which is short-lived and addictive. It seems to be acknowledgment and validation and it is in that judge’s estimation, but there aren’t enough ribbons to go around. Everyone who dares to be different, and is courageous to venture into the competitive art scene deserves a medal! As an artist you are alone bearing your heart and soul (and ego on a platter)for judgment by strangers. That is why it is important to get to know other artists and to build a circle, a community of friends and colleagues pursuing the same goals and for support (especially to attend each other’s art receptions). It is the artist who knows what and how to express and the artist who will decide what stays and what goes in any of his or her creations. The artist has power.
I have an artist friend who does figurative work. I love her drawings and paintings on paper, and yet she has bouts of insecurity. She has told me she sifts through her work, decides what she likes and doesn’t like and what can and cannot be “resolved” and throws a lot it out. I told her to give them to me, maybe I could do something collaborative with them or to just collect them for when she is satisfied with her work and they become collectable for the “before” period of her art career. She hasn’t taken me up on her offer. Had Paul Gauguin not ordered the destruction of much of his later work upon death, imagine what we wouldn’t have missed. We can’t imagine, because it’s gone, and there is no bringing it back.
Looking at my art magazines and mailings, online events advertised for artists, art shows, museum exhibits, and art and sculpture I encounter in most places, I am amazed by massive number of active artists, and by their many different forms of expression in media and in style. Regardless of our differences, our mission is the same — go forth and beautify the world.