There is an understandable degree of concern embedded in knowing when our Art is done. Are we possibly overworking our Art? Or equally worrisome, maybe we are not pushing our Art far enough.
I often keep going way too long, invariably driving over that endpoint. I just don’t stop in time. I then end up creating an entirely new painting that still doesn’t have an endpoint. I feel I make 3–4 paintings that all could of ended before the 2nd or 3rd began. Overworking something is no fun at all. It also feels forever unsatisfying looking at your art that is just missing something. I know because I have done both.
Here are my three guidelines I use to help me know when I am done. I hope some of these might be helpful for you.
1 Your Art is strong up close and far away.
Your finished art not only looks strong from across the room but as you approach and get closer, it should also remain strong. The “loud conversation” – the bold marks, the high contrast of light and dark patterns – can be seen clearly from far away. These bold marks should be equally balanced by more subtle, minimally contrasting marks – “the quiet conversation” – that are only noticeable as the viewer gets closer to the artwork. Both views should be satisfying.
2 You have taken Risks to get there.
Sometimes I am trying to be done mostly so I can just feel done. However, stopping for this reason alone is never satisfying for the long term. Within a few days or even hours, I just know I needed to do more, push further even though that is hard sometimes to admit to myself. Like doing perfect swan dives off the low board, instead of the high dive, it just doesn’t quite feel up to par.
I only consider stopping when I have pushed into an area that feels different or new. I want to feel the aliveness that comes when you are participating in something entirely distinct. This work then becomes a little like a doorway leading to the next paintings, even though they are not even made yet. I look for that spaciousness, that embedded potential in all my finished paintings. If it is not there then I know I have not gone far enough.
3 Your Art feels like all of you
Looking back at the arc of my work I see now that my best work, the work that still holds something for me, seems to show more of who I actually am. These paintings are more holistic in this regard. In other words, you are not necessarily just showing what you can easily do, but also being truthful and allowing the work to show where you struggled, where you are unsure. There is a always a degree of vulnerability with showing the good along with the bad, but I have found its presence makes for much stronger artwork. It somehow feels more truthful, more complete.
It allows you to finally stand back and feel certain that this time, in fact, you are done.
How do you know when your Art is done?
In gratitude, Nicholas