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Unfinished Creative Work

unfinished work

Let’s talk about your unfinished work.

You know what I mean –

  • the work you began in a class.
  • the work that just wasn’t working.
  • the work in progress that’s taking so darn long – like decades.
  • the work that seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • the work you started years (decades) ago but that no longer excites you.
  • the work that became a hot mess but you hold onto it because throwing it out is wasteful.

unfinished workObviously, Christina Rossetti, poet and frequent model for her brother Dante’s paintings, understood the value of unfinished work (see quote above). To be a creative, one must create. You must begin. Finishing is not as important as beginning. In fact, finishing, in many cases, may not be important at all. 

Let me explain why unfinished work is not a bad thing.

A process is never finished. Art is a process. Sometimes it becomes a product, but to truly experience this creative act we call art, it does not always need to result in a finished product.

When it comes to art, the “finish line” is usually arbitrary. You and I both know there is always something we could change, tweak or improve. Calling something finished is a decision, not a clearly marked point in the process.

We enjoy the unfinished work of Bach’s Art of Fugue and Mozart’s Requiem. Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony is one of his best known compositions. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan remains perhaps the most read and famous unfinished poem ever written. Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral has been in the making since 1882, entering its final phase of construction in 2015 and scheduled for completion in 2026. Leonardo DaVinci quickly lost interest and moved onto other projects, and is said to have left behind quite alot unfinished work.

unfinished work“But Lesley, I’m not a famous artist. I have boxes full of crappy things, maybe a few good ones, that I’ve never finished and probably never will.”

Here’s the thing. Your unfinished work has served its purpose.  You have learned what you needed to from it. Think about it – you DO finish a lot of things, right? Why did you finish this and not that? Sometimes the work you finish has an additional purpose – a show, a sale, a gift or…it holds your interest long enough for you to bring it to completion.

Working on it until it was finished was enjoyable because you continued to benefit from it.

I know from personal experience that one of the major benefits from a lot of the work I started was that I realized that it was not a technique, method or material I enjoyed. We just didn’t mesh. There were no sparks. Sometimes I had to try a few times before I realized that we were not meant to be. And that’s OK.

“But I feel guilty and wasteful when I don’t finish, Lesley.”

In many cases the feelings of guilt and wastefulness are inherited from our depression-era ancestors who inherited it from their ancestors who all lived in times when materials were precious. Think of scrap quilts and your mother saying,”Waste not, want not.” (a phrase that was allegedly first recorded in 1772 and that had an earlier “willful waste makes woeful want” version recorded in 1576.)

So how do you overcome the guilt of waste over something you no longer have the interest, time or affinity for? RECYCLE it. But only after you have examined it for what it has taught you.

Here are 10 ways to recycle unfinished work:

  1. Over dye it.
  2. Over paint it.
  3. Cut it up and use the pieces in other projects.
  4. Use is as a background for another piece.
  5. Pass it on to a member of your group or guild – whole or in pieces.
  6. Donate to a school or youth center (kids always find a use for things).
  7. Take it to a thrift shop. It may be just the thing someone else needs!
  8. Use it as a work-in-progress lesson for a beginner.
  9. Use it as a practice piece for a new technique or application.
  10. Explain that it is similar to one of DaVinci’s unfinished pieces and auction it off for charity.

By any and all means, get rid of it. All these unfinished pieces clutter your current creative energy. And that is one resource you need to conserve. In short, it’s time for an energy clearing.