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When is an artwork complete?

When is an artwork complete?

March 30, 2017

Have you ever been to an art exhibition and spoken to the artist?

Did you happen to ask how long it took him to create a masterpiece?

These are the common posers put to artists. However not all such questions are innocent probes. Sometimes the intention be to criticize the work. Nevertheless, it’s the way an artist chooses to answer this poser is what makes it interesting.

If the artist is not totally confident about his work, his answer may well likely be: “I must have taken about two hours. However, I did screw it up once and had to rush for buying a new canvas.”

While a more upbeat confident artist might say “It took my whole life to make this painting,” and therein lies a grain of truth.

You can never actually finish an art. There is always scope for refinement.

Nothing in this near-perfect world can be so inspiring that an artist can fully express is through his art. This could be a limitation of his tools, skills or experiences. Our imaginations and experiences of this world are so complex that there could be no tools to match up to them. So, we end up thinking if a canvas is actually the right medium to bring out the genius within us.

So then, how can we figure out if an artwork is complete?

Probably never! This is a feeling that runs common in all artists, however great they may be. We are never satisfied. We always want to tweak or refine an element here or there.

Leonardo da Vinci, who was known as an arch procrastinator only managed to finish a handful of his works. Considered unreliable by his patrons and peers, he is not the only master artist who struggled to get the expression out.

There used be something called the ‘Varnishing day’ in England, back in the 19th-century. This was the day when artists visited an exhibition and put their finishing touches on their artworks. These artworks were then sealed with a thick coat of varnish, so they couldn’t tinker with it, any further. Yet, there were many who went against these rules. JMW Turner was one of these.

How long you take to create an artwork is not something that really matters. What matters is the kind of influence your artwork has on its viewers. Most ideas that have changed the world were actually very simple. Nevertheless, it took millions of years for people to come up with these ideas.

When to stop making changes to a piece of art depends solely on its creator. It depends a lot on the kind of artist he is. If you don’t know when to stop, you may end up over-finishing. Your anxiety to achieve perfection may rob your work of its vitality. It takes a great painter to know when to actually stop.

Here are a few things that I have learned from master painters:

Be mindful of the bigger picture when working on a painting. Step back every now and then to re-view your work from a distance. You need to understand that every brush stroke can change the image that you are creating.
Keep an eye on the surface as you work on your painting. This will help you understand when you are about to finish.

Even seasoned artists often don’t know what is going to come out of their efforts. You need to be alert of what is going on around you.

Never think of the time that you are going to take or the price you are going to charge when you create a painting. Consider each and every piece as your personal signature.

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