Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Finished or Finished Enough?

You just created a new piece of art. It's finished! Ok, so it's not perfect; you can see ways to improve on what you have done. You take those lessons learned and apply them to the next piece of art. You are comfortable with your earlier works, flaws and all, because they are steps in a larger process.

Really? Does that really happen? It does in my mind. I sometimes imagine that is how it goes for everyone else. That's what I might say to another artist who said they were having a hard time letting a piece go because it was "not quite right". I would say, "It's a process, let it go! You learned from this experience, now move on to the next one." That's what I would say. I would be very sincere too. I would also hope that they would not then ask, "Is that what you do?"

No. No that is not what I do. I work on a piece, obsessing over it for awhile, then eventually I either decide it's done enough and try to ignore all it's flaws, or I just say it's not quite finished. Pieces can remain "not quite finished" for months, years... maybe forever.

Upon noticing that I seemed to have an awful lot of work that I was not showing to anyone, a designer friend of mine asked the obvious question: "Why are you hiding all this work away?" I told him it was either unfinished or not good enough. Then he asked me a question I've never really been able to answer to my own satisfaction: "Why do you get to decide if it's any good or not?"

At first I thought it was a ridiculous question. Of course I get to decide if something I made is any good or not! But, over the course of the discussion I saw what he was getting at. In my opinion (and in many others as well), this guy was a brilliant graphic designer. I was blown away by his talent, and naturally respected his opinions. And there he was, pointing out things I had created and he was telling me "this is good, this is excellent, ok, sure, this one needs more work". What he wasn't saying was "this is crap, hide this away!"

He helped me learn to accept praise for things I had made. When someone told me they liked a piece of my work, I would often immediately tell them all things that I thought were wrong with it. As my friend pointed out, this is a bit insulting. They just told me they liked it, now I'm telling them it's not very good (or worse), in effect saying, "you don't know jack, Jack."

Today, if someone says they like a piece, I try to simply say "thank you" and then maybe ask them what they like about it. Sometimes they can tell me, sometimes they can't. I almost always hear my friend's voice in my head asking "Why do you get to decide if it's any good or not?"

That one question has helped make me much more at ease with my own art. More at ease. I'm still a long way from brimming with confidence.

About a year ago I started taking digital photos of textures. They could be anything: glass, wood, ruty metal, cracks in rocks, anything that grabs my eye. I'm not trying to capture perfect photos. I call it "collecting pixels". I use these photos of found textures, by layering, warping and distorting them, to create images that look sort of like insects. They have tons of detail and because I am using lots of sources from nature, they have a strong organic quality. I want these images to look like they might have been created in a lab, maybe with microscopic imaging, as if these were taken during the scientific study of some new species.

I work on them, decide they are "finished enough" or "not quite finished", and then make another. And another and another. I've shown them to a few people. The response is usually positive. There is always interest in how the images are created. But I am still holding them back. I have no idea what to do with them. Prints? Does anyone buy prints of weird, alien looking insects? Maybe I should just make a calendar? Should I just accept that they will never be sold to hang on walls, but try to put together some sort of show or exhibit? I can think of all sorts of reasons not to do any of these things. Good digital prints are expensive... so is mounting or framing. Can I afford to invest in things I might not sell?

Ok, I don't expect anyone else to answer these questions for me. But I am curious how other creative people approach these issues. Do they even have these issues? How confident or comfortable are you that an individual piece is "finished"? Are you embarrassed by your early work? Do you find it easy to just "put it out there" and see what the reaction is? Do you even care what the reaction is?

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