ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.
Recently, an artist friend told me that he loves to shop online. “I make a decision; I click a button; I’m asked if my selection is final; and then I get to say ‘yes’.”
Following this announcement, he pumped his clenched fist triumphantly in the air before my blank expression. He then realized that I wasn’t quite sure where victory fit into his recent purchase of a Chicago Cubs Crystal Freezer Mug from Amazon.com, so he added, “I love that moment of satisfaction when I get to confirm that my action is complete and done. It’s not a feeling I have very much when I paint.”
My friend had better put his credit card under lock and key because, from what others artists have told me, many a good painting has been ruined by sentences that begin with “It’s almost done but needs a little more …..”
Knowing when a painting is finished can be challenging for artists. As difficult as that can be to understand for the task-driven among us, an artist will often overwork, overanalyze or even destroy paintings that to others appear not only done, but perfect. The artist’s self-questioning can take on the obsessive zeal of an eyebrow-plucker who winds up hairless after return trips to the mirror.
But it’s not an uncommon state of mind for an artist:
When something is finished, that means it’s dead, doesn’t it? I believe in everlastingness. I never finish a painting – I just stop working on it for a while.
How does an artist know when a work is done? There are many ways to keep this ball in the air. Sometimes a final signature is added only when a painting is sold rather than completed. This leaves the door open for the artist to continually return to a painting before it leaves the nest; at which point the artist may declare it finally “done.” But even after a painting has been sold, artists often wish they could get back into that canvas and give it a little tweak.
Some artists never feel their paintings are finished. Although they usually want and/or need to sell their work, they’re also quite content to keep their paintings around to dip back into. They feel that later on, something might come to them that enhances the work or better expresses their intentions. Or perhaps, for whatever personal reasons, the artist isn’t ready to let go of it.
No painting stops with itself, is complete of itself. It is a continuation of previous paintings and is renewed in successive ones…
Often you can see specific “periods” in artists’ work—where it’s clear that personally compelling ideas and techniques are being explored in one painting after another. Even for the viewer, let alone for the artist, it can feel like these paintings are extensions of the same themes, as the artist explores his/her own reactions. At these times in particular, the distinction between where one painting ends and another begins can become blurry.
To this point, I knew a painter who, in the midst of what subsequently became a series, didn’t want to sell her work until she “got it out of her system.” She needed to refer back to those she’d just painted to see how she should proceed with her new ones. She was able to let go of her work, consider it done, and sell it, once she felt she’d answered the questions her work posed; at which point she wanted to move on to a new approach to keep her curiosity fresh.
The painting is finished when the idea has disappeared.
Shopping online may just have to do for those painters who yearn for the satisfaction derived from a singular act of unequivocal completion. But there are other painters who have come up with their own fail proof solutions to determine when to finally put that paintbrush down:
I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.