Who is to say when a painting is finished?

The first twenty minutes of a painting are usually the most exciting moments of a painting. The lines are fresh, the colors are bold, and the image is clear.  A painting can be considered finished within the first twenty minutes, yet rarely does an artist stop that soon.

In my experience, I often seek a return to the original freshness of the first twenty minutes when the initial strokes express mystery and magic, when the painting reflects a direct response between painter and paint.

The looming question that nearly every artist ponders is: When is a painting finished?

It is a very tough question to answer and for that reason, many artists work far longer on a painting than is needed.

In my practice, I need to discipline myself to pause and step back. I paint quickly and my painting changes shape rapidly. It takes a lot of courage to call a painting done at an early phase. When I paint in group, my artist friends often tell me I need to stop, since they can see my painting is still fresh and most likely finished.

Several years ago I visited a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City called “Unfinished”. The show displayed numerous paintings from the Renaissance to contemporary. What all these paintings shared in common was a freshness and a peek at artistic process.

In some paintings one could still see bare, untouched canvas where much of the surface was not completed. In some artworks only a small part of the image was fully defined, leaving the rest of the image barely suggested. Each work of art seemed to pose the question: Is it finished? Yet every piece felt alive and fully expressed.

So often as artists we have in mind what a finished piece of art should look like. We aspire to complete a painting, but often we overlook the beauty and expression in an ‘unfinished’ state. That amazing state of becoming is what breathes life into the painting. Looking back at the development thus far in my painting, I can see that I want to reintegrate the energy of the first twenty minutes.