Unfinished

All artwork is arguably still unfinished. It is this singular aspect that makes art similar to science than either party may care to admit or remember.

Most of the time, you’ll come across so-called “finished” works rather than drafts or prototypes, so this may seem as a revelation, but what you’re actually seeing is more of an “It’s as finished as it can be right now”. It is only the easily-satisfied artist who would consider all their art pieces finished. But most artists I’ve come across, myself included, could literally work a lifetime on a single piece and never be truly and completely satisfied. There’s always more work that can be done. There’s always something that needs to be fixed. There’s always more that can be better, and honestly speaking, if “perfect” is the measure we’re aiming for, then it truly is a paradox in itself, because it implies that there’s a limit to how good something can be.

As a compromise, we lower our intentions and our expectations, because we are not infinite beings, and it’s easy to get tired of fixing or modifying or adding or subtracting from a piece we don’t know what we find wrong with, only that it’s still wrong and not done yet. We compromise, and make ourselves believe “it’s as finished as it will ever be”, because what we’re aiming for is beyond our current capabilities. It’s often true, as many artists can and will return with fresh motivation and insight to a former artwork a few weeks, months, years later in order to complete what they’ve left behind. Sometimes works get modifications here and there. Some stay left behind, lost and desperately forgotten (but not really) until picked up again by an ambitious spirit. Even more are left undone, erroneously labelled as “complete”, and displayed in some gallery or corner or basement or landfill. Science is the same way: facts are written and rewritten as more and more discoveries are being made and previous theories proved or discarded. We may think we’ve reached the end, or fool ourselves into believing so, or risk driving ourselves crazy with parallel universes and roads less travelled and Schrödinger’s cat.

To imply that something is “finished”, is to imply that it is “perfect” and “complete”, and nothing else can be done. In essence, a masterpiece. If we can attain this, then I think most of us will already be quite satisfied. Despite this, there are hardly any works that can be called “masterpieces”, whether by the artist themselves or by those around them. In this way, each work we begin is like a never-ending circle of birth, life, life, life, life, life…perhaps it is only in absolute death that all art is truly finished, even if they may not be masterpieces (and this is the reason why an artist’s death often raises his or her artwork’s value – because the artist is done, whether he or she likes it or not). But as long as there is someone carrying the torch, then the possibilities really do become endless, and without knowing, we become instruments of torture to our art and ourselves.

Even so, through all the struggles, in the pursuit of perfection and of making a finished masterpiece, we aim for the infinite, and that in itself is one of the greatest delights of being an artist.

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