This week's blog post is written by local painter, Jennie O'Connor.
How do I know when a painting is finished? That’s a question I ask myself repeatedly, as do many artists.
“For some artists, a work is done when it leaves the studio. Others keep tinkering in the galleries. One waits for a piece to ‘cry uncle.”- Author Unknown
Making a painting is unlike most other tasks where there is a distinct beginning and end to a project. For example, I know when I’ve finished the dishes or finished writing a letter; however that may not be so true when I am gardening. After all gardening is an art form.
I find that as much as I may want a piece of art to be finished, it may not be so. I stress over what the painting needs to be spectacular, because, oh my gosh, all my paintings must be spectacular. I find it helps to poke fun at myself because of the need not to take myself so seriously is important in my process.
I think every artist, or at least most artists, want each piece to be great. However, in the real world it doesn't happen that way, at least in my world. I’d like to say one in three, but in reality it’s probably closer to one in ten paintings end up as ‘good enough,’ and the really great paintings are few and far between, if ever. That’s just my guesstimate anyway.
Getting back to the problem of when is a painting finished, sometimes I think a piece is finished, only to set it up for a day or two and realize, no, there is more work to do. That shape or color isn't quite right or I need to add bit of color in another area. Too much texture, not enough texture, too dark, too light, or oh no, have I overworked it? This is a very real problem. I find that the best paintings have a certain freshness and spontaneity to them which is easily destroyed. A saying I once heard was, “It takes two people to make a painting: The artist and someone to kill the artist before he ruins it.” It’s not hard to become obsessive over a painting, worrying that maybe I just need to add or take out something. That’s when deciding whether or not the painting is completed becomes even more difficult.
Looking at the image of the painting above, is it finished? I’m not so sure, but I haven't decided how to change it yet, or if I should.
Peer groups are wonderful help dealing with this issue. I belong to a couple of critique groups where I meet with my artist friends to talk about our paintings. Each of us brings some of our current work to be critiqued by the others in the group. Having one’s art viewed with fresh eyes can be so helpful in identifying areas of a painting that are not working and getting suggestions. And once in a while, the blessed words, “Don’t change a thing” are spoken.
Knowing when to stop is a very real talent, and hopefully a skill that can be learned over time. Sometimes I know just what a painting needs as a finishing touch, but other times it just not so easy. And so I struggle along with this age-old problem.
“You can paint only what you are. You must be what your experiences, your environment, and your heredity have made you. [...] For better or for worse, you must play your own little instrument in the orchestra of life." — Dale Carnegie