When Is It Done? (Part 1)
When an insightful person asks the painter, “How do you know when is it done?” they cut to the heart of an artist’s process and sensibility. They strike at the heart of Meaning. Now, there are reasons to do this and to do that: maybe there are professional considerations, like looking “finished” for clients, or stylistic considerations, like wanting to belong to a clique or continuum of thought, or personal considerations, like wanting to seem competent or likable. Yet, knowing when a work is satisfied, when it rings like a bell, when it is time to let the world make up their own story about what you’ve done — that goes beyond liking or wanting or participating in everything else that surrounds the art or the artist — that speaks to the work’s Purpose.
I like de Kooning’s answer. He said that paintings are not finished; they are abandoned. What he meant by this is that the tumult and drama of making a painting only ever increases, only ever rises in pitch. There will always be a higher plateau, as well as the ever-present peril of tumbling to oblivion with the next step. The Sun calls me higher; but my wax wings may not hold out.
Beyond Quality, the questions, the Mystery, of a painting will forever elude. The magic that beckons from behind the canvas laughs at your attempt to speak to it in its language. It’s a moving target, falling through a black hole. They faster you run towards it, the faster it falls away to black. The more you know, the more the periphery widens exponentially, and you realize that you knew nothing. Even knowing what you were trying to do seems like the wrong question to ask. Helpless.
All the artist in de Kooning’s imagination can do is follow this rabbit hole until they can’t take it anymore. Completing a work was never in question; now, there is only the question of self-preservation. And so, you abandon it. You go on.