I been having an interesting conversation with a WordPress pal about the question of when a painting is finished and how you know when to stop. Or, if you should ever stop. (Pierre Bonnard, we’re looking at you.) I’m in a place in my art where I feel like I have to keep going forward with a picture until I really have no more ideas for it. If I see something that I think I need to change, I change it. I also make decisions with the specific aim of “finishing” the painting, but I find that I don’t really like the term “finishing” and I don’t seem to be alone. I’m not sure why, as artists, we don’t want to finish the picture. Would “complete the picture” sound better …?
One of the things I love about drawing is that there’s less pressure to finish something. The drawing above is an example. It is as “finished” as it’s ever going to be. I was sitting before the actual scene on a summer day. The clock ran out. I assembled my things and returned home. The ending of the drawing was abrupt and arbitrary, but the drawing does seem complete to me just as it is.
With paint you can always add more layers. You can cover over an entire picture, if you like. (As I’ve discovered in a big way with my current painting.) So there’s really nothing to stop you from just painting and painting and painting. And I do like the idea of getting into the weeds. It can seem like there’s places deep inside an image that you can find, little corners where you can begin exploring, where you can get marvelously lost. It’s not an idea that scores you points in art school discussions about composition, but it is an interesting dream-like way of staying inside a picture. If you are willing to risk all, willing to blow the whole wad, you might completely screw things up but there are also potentialities — particularly in oil painting, a medium that seems designed for visual risk taking. It’s a gamble, but certainly a more fruitful one than other forms of gambling. There is that something that beckons.
Or should I say tempt? I’m not sure. I was looking through some canvases and found a couple that I thought were more or less finished and now I find that they are not. Once I feel that way, I know I have to go back over them — otherwise, no matter what anybody else sees, I just see the “unfinished” picture. It’s not even about an ordinary feeling that the picture somehow resolves. It’s more that I just see too many openings for more visual information — stuff that ought to be there.
So that’s what I love, in contrast, about drawing — no pressure.
Okay. So I say that, but as soon as the words escape I can think of a kind of painting that is very like drawing — a kind of painting where you reach a fecund moment when you — stop! It’s wonderful. When everything has just reached a nebulous, energetic, open-ended kind of fruition. I used to paint always, exclusively for that moment. Now I’m wondering what it would be like to do that again. And can you do it with a large painting? Ooh la la, choices and decisions and longings.
Starting pictures is wonderful because the beginning is such a rich field. The picture that you stop at the magical moment persists in that field of beginning but somehow rounds it out and makes it dwell in persistent potential, like a wave that crests but never falls.
Well, some things to think about.