When Is A Work of Art Finished?

Jackson Pollock, painting

“How do you know you’re finished making love?” Jackson Pollock once said about knowing when an artwork is finished.
Image: Portrait/Wedding Photographer via Flickr CC

For most, if not all artists, it is incredibly difficult to identify the exact moment that they have completed a piece of art. Painters, musicians, sculptors, and authors might “finish” one piece, only to go back and fuss over the minutest details after it has been published, recorded, or let out into the world. How does an artist know when an artwork is finished?

Some artists argue that a work of art is never finished, no matter the genre. “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” Leonardo da Vinci, legendary artist behind the Mona Lisa, famously once said. Art historians today are still trying to determine how many years da Vinci spent on the Mona Lisa; new technology has helped to peel back the layers of time to decipher clues. Abstract painter Jackson Pollock once likened creating artworks to sex, pondering, “How do you know you’re finished making love?” when asked about his artistic process and how he knew when he was finished with a painting. Both of these artists, each from completely different time periods and artistic movements, both believed that a painted artwork is never really finished, even after the artist stops working on it.

art, painting, Mona Kuhn

Once an artwork is complete, it “takes on a life of its own” says photographer Mona Kuhn.
Image: BurnAway via Flickr CC

Other artists throughout history have used the philosophy of how an artwork is never quite finished to allow a fluidity and calmness to permeate their artistic process. Contemporary artist Emilio Perez once said, “Part of being able to know when you’re finished is not putting too much pressure on yourself,” of the fact that if an artist loses focus in one project, they can always begin another new one. Perez also considers art that is “finished” or near completion to be like a conversation. He says, “like every conversation, it it’s a good one, it ends in a natural way – I have this intuitive sense that I’ve finished something.”

Many artists trust their instincts and intuition when it comes to knowing when an artwork is complete. If they didn’t the world would have no published literature, no full-length records, or galleries full of paintings, read for the public to enjoy. And as photographer Mona Kuhn points out, once an artist has separated themselves from their work and allowed the public to interpret it, it almost becomes reincarnated, taking on an entirely new entity. She explains, “When you feel that you are ready, you want to separate from it. You can’t take it anymore, and you have to push it out. And once it’s out, it takes on a life of its own.”

What do you think? When should or does an artist know when their artwork is finished?

Featured Image: Detlef Schobert via Flickr CC

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