When is a work of art finished?

“Art is never finished, only abandoned”

~Leonardo da Vinci

*Please note Leonardo left fewer than 30 paintings, and many of these aren’t even finished.

Finishing a painting is not like finishing a horse race. Usually no one, including the artist, knows for sure if its finished. There are no lords and ladies in fine dress to congratulate you, no big wreaths of flowers, no gold cup. Creating a painting is a lonely pursuit right to the end.

So with all this internalizing and loneliness how does an artist know if they have truly finished a work?

There is no blanket answer to this question. But here are 4 common approaches.

1.A gut instinct

Many artist rely on a “gut instinct”. It manifests itself as a kind of intuitive aesthetic.

2.Several things on the go at once

There are those that find distraction a helpful tool in keeping a clear head. An artist may work several paintings at a time, thus avoiding tunnel vision. They maintain a level of detachment that allows them to make the difficult decision on completion.

3.Take a break

This is another tactic that allows an artist to keep a clear head, remain unattached and see clearly the quality of their own work.

4.If it doesn’t add it takes away; simplicity wins

Think simplicity. Work with a limited pallet, simplify your composition. Add only where it noticeably enhances the overall mood of the painting. If it does not add it takes away. When you can no longer add, your finished.

To new artists I have a small piece of advice to offer.

Budding artists, don’t worry about finishing your artwork for now. When you are learning the foundations and developing your craft, finishing is not the goal – rather you will have taken a project as far as it can go. Walk away when you are no longer learning, then start the next project!

In the end Leonardo came closer to the truth of defining what it means to finish a work of art – Abandonment!

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