Leaving things incomplete

Dear Artist, These days I’ve been rededicating myself to less overworking and more understatement. In other words, trying to leave my work fresher, even at the expense of being incomplete. I believe it’s an idea that a lot of us could profit by. We all know the danger of keeping on going — adding detail or complexity when the idea we started out with is well enough expressed without the fiddling. In our innate human desire for perfection we can forget the hand of the artist, even the struggling hand, and the poetic justice of paucity. These elements have value for the second half of the creative partnership — the eyes of the viewer. Here in Japan it’s the principle of “Mujo” (moo-joh). It stems from the ancient Zen concept of transience and uncertainty. A related Japanese word is Mikansei (me-kahn-say-ee) which means “the state of being incomplete.” In many ways, the western convention of abstract art fills this bill. In abstraction, you can’t always tell exactly what it is you are looking at, and there lies its charm. Mystery builds viewer interest. The Japanese are not always prepared to go that far. The suggestion of a waterfall or a few cursory brushstrokes indicating a tree or a flower may suffice to communicate a motif. Here’s how to put Mujo to work for yourself: Before starting in with the “busyness” of working, stop to think of the simplest and freshest way a passage might be conceived and executed. Very often a move up to a larger brush, together with a careful mixing of the desired colour, and an elegant, well-contemplated stroke or two can carry the day. Leaving a little primer showing through, or a slight error, a slub or a bump — so what. Even an inadvertent dribble-down or an indecisive painterly scrabble gives life where dullness might otherwise prevail. We sometimes hear the argument that this sort of incompleteness or roughness only appeals to other artists. I don’t think so. I find our world to be loaded and cocked with creator wannabees. We artists represent the last bastion of the hand of man. For others to see art in its freshness, failings and incompleteness may be the greater part of our winning hand. Best regards, Robert PS: “The power of the mujo principle lies in quietly, serenely letting the viewer participate in the representation.” (Boye Lafayette De Mente, from his excellent overview “Elements of Japanese Design”) Esoterica: Today I attended a show that included traditional flower arrangement (ikebana). Unlike the western burst of saturated colour and riots of variety — the whole garden in your face — Japanese floral designs tend to be sparse, subtle and simple. A single, tall orchid of an incredible, delicate colour set off by a few dry sticks that twist and struggle alongside, all set, off center, in a delicate and unobtrusive earthen vase. Such is the nature of understatement — an opportunity for the viewer to slow down, take part in, and love.   Having fun produces best work by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada  

“High and dry”
by Phil Chadwick

I thought that “Mujo” was just a line from the crazy Austin Powers spy movies but it rings true! “Leaving things incomplete” is another truism that ties into the powerful art of Tom Thomson and working en plein air. Mario Airomi, my art instructor and friend who escaped Italy before Mussolini always said, “Pheeel, use a bigger brush” … “Pheel, don’t count the folds in the accordion.” Robert, Mario and Austin are all right. My best art always seem to come when I am out of control, reacting to the inspiration using a brush ten times larger than the smallest detail included. Accidental strokes of magic are best left alone. Overworking the oil is not an option as the mosquitoes and deer flies close in. Plein air fosters my best art and the goal is always to make the next work better than the last — even if that means leaving it unfinished. Rocking, my 1118th painting is an example of an unfinished sketch but it still works. I have a scientific side of my personality that compels me to record, organize and complete Grey Owl, my 1115th work shows that side. Maybe it is OK to have a split artistic personality but in truth, the fun stuff is rough and incomplete — and artists “just wanna have fun…” There is 1 comment for Having fun produces best work by Phil Chadwick
From: Anonymous — Jul 16, 2010

Thanks, Phil. So very true are your words. I’ve often wondered about my split artist personality, wondering if one day they will merge as one, but then where would the fun be if they did??

  Vignettes sometimes viewed as incomplete by Paul Allen Taylor, Rochester, NY, USA  

“Seashore Vignette”
watercolour painting
by Paul Allen Taylor

While reading your letter, and seeing the term “incomplete” I immediately heard the word “vignette.” Vignette is a term used in optics where the true full field view of a lens is reduced in some manner, usually due to the optical mounting or other physical interference. I worked as a mechanical designer for optics and we spoke of this vignette many times. I couldn’t mount the glass lenses to allow the full field so we would force the vignette situation. Norman Rockwell was a vignette painter more than most and I always liked looking at his work but now have a better understanding of it. I was introduced to the term again in a workshop with Tony Couch and at the time I was not aware it was related to art. Tony also has some basic rules to follow in constructing the vignette; the vignette image lies on white paper. There is very little value change within the image. The outer edges of the image should be 80% rough, 20% soft (the exception being hard edged objects and water reflections.) Have at least three run-offs with no two the same width as they leave the page and they must run off offset from each other. The run-offs result in 3-4 white corners of the paper, which must all be of a different size. Part of the overall image should join one of the white shapes which is not visually obvious but ties the entire sheet together. Tony says these paintings provide sparkle and entertainment. However, many see them as “incomplete” and wonder when we will finish them. Not too often do they get entered into juried shows just for the fact that they are seen as unfinished. Seashore Vignette was done as a demo painting for a group in about 1.5 hours on a 1/2 sheet. Any painting can be converted into a vignette. It’s quite easy. There are 6 comments for Vignettes sometimes viewed as incomplete by Paul Allen Taylor
From: susan kellogg — Jul 16, 2010


From: Anonymous — Jul 16, 2010

I love it but for sure you need a good eye for shapes and point of interest. Not so sure it will be easy but will give it a try. Thanks.

From: Mary Carnahan — Jul 16, 2010

I like your precise description. Sounds like good design rules for non-vignettes also.

From: Lynn — Jul 16, 2010

Your work is beautiful. I admire and respect the amount of restraint that these paintings take to execute.

From: Painter Woman — Jul 16, 2010

I’ll hardly promise to follow all those vignette rules, but I sure appreciate that you shared them. I usually paint in oils now, but the rules would seem to apply to “main subject”/background split. Thanks,

From: Jim Oberst — Jul 16, 2010

I’ve taken a few workshops from Tony Couch, and learned a LOT. I, too, recently completed a 2-hour, half-sheet vignette demo at a workshop http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=278837&id=133611733329578), and liked the very fresh feel of it.

  A good painting shows skill not overkill by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA  

“Late hill”
acrylic painting
by Linda Blondheim

My more refined studio work outsells my rough plein air work by about 80%. My patrons much prefer a more refined painting. It seems to me that there is a definite trend among artists for rough, sloppy work. It is all the rage now among landscape painters. The more a painting looks incomplete, the more accolades it gets from other artists. However, my own collectors are disconnected to that look in paintings. To me a good painting has everything, from rough loose brushwork to detail and refinement in the area of interest. I like to see a painting that shows me the artist has skill but not overkill. There are 6 comments for A good painting shows skill not overkill by Linda Blondheim
From: Bobbo — Jul 15, 2010

A beauty, Linda. The atmospheric edges of the background trees – so evocative, and so pertinent to Robert’s message. Lovely.

From: susan burns — Jul 16, 2010

This is such a beautiful painting. The shadows, the composition, everything. My mind doesn’t need any more detail than this.

From: Linda Blondheim — Jul 16, 2010

Thank you so much Bobbo and Susan.

From: Anonymous — Jul 16, 2010

I agree with Bobbo, the lost edges of the trees are wonderful, they imply not only distance and ambiguity but movement. All those “spontaneous” moments in good paintings are not always so serendipitous however. John S. Sargent (he of spectacular bravado of brushwork) once remarked about how much sweat and effort went into “appearing” spontaneous. It’s a fine tightrope to walk in execution and the one that probably most delineates the expert from the amateur. It takes many hundreds of hours of painting to achieve that kind of trust to ones boldness. Well. done. Linda! Stella

From: GEORGE TORJUSSEN — Jul 16, 2010

One of the all-time most evocatively gorgeous paintings ever to appear on these pages. I love it and for all my own anal retentive stuff, This is what I’d hang in a special place in my home. are you showing on Fine Art America? Check it out. GEORGE

From: Hansen — Jul 17, 2010

It Sparkles!!! Thank you

  Emotional not mechanical editing by Michael Fenton, New Jersey, USA   In many ways art is analogous to music. I believe that classical painting and music are the bed rock of the genre. As one moves toward jazz or abstraction one experiments with art. All great musicians must feel their art just as an artist must feel the work. Anyone can play notes or paint pretty pictures. A truly great jazz musician must feel the music and to be a great abstract artist one must be emotionally tied to the work. When an artist leaves out or adds in notes, it needs to be done with emotion, from a place of feeling not from a place of mechanics or technique. The Japanese style of doing more with less is rooted in a culture that understands simplicity at a level Europeans and Americans usually do not. We can learn much from their techniques but until we can feel the music we will never be anything more than imitators.   Fear of spontaneity lost by Shirley Peters, Putney, NSW, Australia  

“Canal surfer”
by Shirley Peters

Your reminder is very timely as I have three canvases ‘sketched’ in and ready to paint. I love the original loose shapes and tones but after I have applied layers of oil paint I fear that spontaneity will be lost. We used to have a saying at art school: it takes two people to paint a picture… one to do the painting and one to hit the painter on the head when it’s finished. So, in theory, I know I should show restraint and now that you have reminded me I will make an honest effort to keep these loose.         Questioning signals time to stop by Raynald Murphy, Montreal, Canada  

“Maison Sir George-Etienne Cartier”
watercolour painting
by Raynald Murphy

When using watercolour medium or a drawing medium such as pastel I find it easier to leave parts incomplete or undefined than when painting in oils or acrylics. If I repeatedly stop while painting and question what should I add, this is often a signal that it is time to stop and sign the work.           Omission encourages participation by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA  

watercolour by
Brenda Behr

“Less is more” is a principle I know but don’t always follow. I refer to the kind of art you mention as “interactive art.” It allows the viewer to participate often garnering an “Ah ha” response by offering its viewer a visual riddle. It took me ten years to earn four certificates from the Sogetsu School of Ikebana in Japan. A dried flower or broken twigs are imperfections we Westerners might exclude from our concept of beauty. Similar to abstract painting, it was interesting fact that we students were required to first learn the basics of Ikebana before going on to “freestyle” arrangement. Also similar to contemporary art or accurate drawing of any kind the negative space in an Ikebana arrangement is just as important as the positive. Much can be learned from its practice. I also studied Sumi-e, not so I could become a practitioner of Asian brush painting but so I could incorporate masterful strokes in my watercolors. This has had a great influence on my alla prima watercolors. There are 8 comments for Omission encourages participation by Brenda Behr
From: Anonymous — Jul 15, 2010

Brenda, Your Heron painting is gorgeous. Ruth Andre-www.ruthandre.com

From: Mikki — Jul 16, 2010

Brenda, this is a pure and totally complete painting of a Blue Heron…not needing another jot or tittle to be perfect! I know and love these birds but yours is the best and most expressive rendition of one I have ever seen. Thank you!

From: Momo — Jul 16, 2010

I love this. The heron looks exactly like they do when they alight in my pond. Beautiful. Thank you.

From: Brenda Behr — Jul 16, 2010

I’m honored by your comments. Thank you.

From: Stephanie Vagvolgyi — Jul 17, 2010


From: Terry — Jul 17, 2010

You truly painted the spirit of the great grey heron rather than simply the bird. I love this painting…

From: Brenda Behr — Jul 18, 2010

Someone just emailed me about having captured the “essence” of the heron in this painting. They could not have paid me a higher compliment. I’ll have to remember the words “spirit” and “essence” when I rewrite my artist’s statement. This is so what I aspire to do when I paint. Thank you all.

From: SARAH SCHULTZ — Jul 18, 2010

The heron is such a magnificent creature. You have definitely captured its most basic form. So beautiful !

  Distilling the information by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA  

mixed media, 12 x 12.5 inches
by Mary Moquin

I have been working along this line for some time but I don’t think incomplete is the correct word. For me, it is more the idea of distilling all the information down to the necessary parts. When in doubt, we put it all in because it is easier than figuring out what we can leave out. I am very influenced by Japanese Haiku. I think that is the best example. One could write a lengthy discourse on the interpretation of a Haiku poem and fill in all the details, but when the thought is distilled into a breath of syllables there is a perfect distillation of a poignant memory. That is what I am trying to achieve in my paintings by leaving out all the distracting superfluous details.   There is 1 comment for Distilling the information by Mary Moquin
From: Darla — Jul 16, 2010

Mary — Your painting is the perfect distillation of the feeling of solidity and security. Anthing added would be superfluous.

  Training the eye for order and design by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA  

“Moulin de la Galette”
oil painting
by Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

It seems to me there is one basic guiding principle to completeness in painting — its visual order or design. If a painting works visually, an under-painting can be a complete image. A great painting always looks complete and whole and fresh regardless of how much or how little paint there is on the canvas. If you purposefully try to ‘leave a little primer showing,’ or a leave ‘slight error,’ or a ‘dribble-down’ you will most likely create a contrivance. A good example of ‘leaving things incomplete’ that works is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin de la Galette, 1889, at the Art Institute of Chicago. The question is, “How do you develop the sense for completeness in painting?” Besides studying the visual design of great works of art, one of the best ways to training the eye is to daily look at and study the appearance of our everyday visual world.   Painting worked to death by Tina Bohlman, Waxahachie, TX, USA  

“Purple Passion”
watercolour painting
by Tina Bohlman

Today I worked a painting literally to death; it’s now in the trash can. I couldn’t stop myself from making “just one more stroke” then following up with another to correct the stroke before and on and on and on I went. Was it you who said, “More paint isn’t going to make it any better”? Tomorrow is another day and a new resolve to “leave it incomplete.” Now where is that little egg-timer? There are 6 comments for Painting worked to death by Tina Bohlman
From: Bobbo — Jul 15, 2010

If the impulse was there to add “one more stroke,” that sounds like authentic instinct from here. Perhaps fish it out of the trash, put it away for a week or two and look at it again, perhaps in a different light (both meanings of the word). :) Sometimes things will offer surprises.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jul 16, 2010

On the other hand, sometimes just letting something go is the best thing. I recently took my orbital sander to a painting on panel that I had overworked to the point I couldn’t stand it anymore. What a feeling of satisfaction as the layers disappeared. The panel, with the remainders of color, is hanging on my wall now as a reminder to stop sooner, stay simple, and, as Linda said, find the essentials and stick with them.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jul 16, 2010

Sorry– I meant to say Mary Moquin, not Linda. I am a fan of yours, Mary, and often visit your site to learn from you.

From: Raynald Murphy — Jul 16, 2010

It’s almost impossible to work a painting to death when working on site. Time constraints, weather conditions, change in light and distractions almost always dictate when to stop. If working en plein air is habitual the acquired reflex of knowing when to stop will carry over into your studio painting.

From: Mary Moquin — Jul 21, 2010

First, thank you Dale. This watercolour is lovely, and you underline the reason I don’t use it, I believe a painting can never be overworked, except when it is a watercolor! http://marymoquin.blogspot.com

From: Salvy — Jul 27, 2010

If an angel is holding your brush-hand (Dali), there is no such thing as overworking a painting.

  Less is more by Elsie Kilguss, Wickford, RI, USA  

original painting
by Elsie Kilguss

The incompleteness of things appeals to the creative spirit and imagination and coincides with the mantra we had at art school so many years ago — less is more. It has only taken me half a lifetime to really understand how little is absolutely necessary to express the exact line of a rooftop or the exact color of the sun’s glint on a wave crest or the shadow shape that emphasizes the light of the day. There is 1 comment for Less is more by Elsie Kilguss
From: Victoria on Okinawa — Jul 18, 2010

Yes, a life time, it seems from learning from books & school “draw what you see” & “paint what you see” is an interesting thing: see when I was younger I could see a lot more when I viewed an object, so that is what I did I drew & painted what I saw. Now that I am older I’m still drawing & painting what I see but I don’t see as well as I used to & now my work is coming out looking better than it did when I drew & painted everything I saw. I think there needs to be more teaching, in books & school, about being more selective about putting down what you see & how to do that on the canvas with out loosing your good eyesight.

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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Janice Robinson-Delaneyof Ellenwood, GA, USA, who wrote, “I like that concept. It might be a good adjunct to my business plan; artwork that allows the viewer’s eye to complete the work for them. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I think that my work turns out to be abstract due to time constraints but then I have also blamed it on a supplies issue. Maybe it’s just the faceted nature of an artist’s work.” And also Frances Schneider of Texas, USA, who wrote, “I set out with an exciting and fresh idea, and end up killing the very thing I love, usually by “licking it to death”! It ends up hard-edged and/or stiff, and not at all what had in mind. I’m thinking of trying to paint with my left hand, or with a crooked stick or something.” And also Carl Nelson who wrote, “It is also good sales. Our realtor gave us a good lesson in this. We wanted her to point out all of the best aspects of our property. She said, “No. You want to let the buyers discover these. Then it is their find.” It worked. We got $10,000.00 above market.” And also B. H. Gerard of Thousand Oaks, CA, USA, who wrote, “I have spent a great deal of time in Japan doing independent ceramic study and visiting historic folk-pottery areas. I hope someday to be able to make clay containers suitable for ikebana and even perhaps a good tea bowl for cha-no-yu. So far my pieces are much too busy for their particular esthetic as it’s hard to know when to stop. But alas, I have only been a potter since 1962.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Leaving things incomplete

From: John L Brown — Jul 13, 2010

As with this comment, in art I often do not know what I’m trying to express, or ‘access’ until I make a start. No doubt, this tendency defines a particular approach, or idiosyncrasy. As well, what constitutes a finished product is never predetermined. In point of fact, I wish I could work in a more defined manner. Yet, for me, I am bound, perhaps limited, by a particular creative impulse that demands I pursue that which is, if you will given. Occasionally my drawings result in lawyers of shapes, and designs that look otherworldly. A friend told me he could hear music in my drawing. That particular drawing was ‘composed,’ very rapidly listing to invigorating music. I was exhausted when I finished it. Point being, the concept of overwork never enters because I am responding to an erg that is seemingly outside of pure volition. I can remember a time when I essentially ruined a drawing because I worked to slowly. Once I gained an appreciable degree of competence, I gained a degree of fluency that determined the direction, and what; substance, quality, character, and vitality, which dictated the effort necessary to complete the work without regard to overworking. Being self-taught, without the potential strictures of formal training may well explain the relative freedom necessary to access this creative flow that rarely result in overworking. This is, of course, a personal statement, based upon my limited experience, and training. Yet the results are fairly impressive, as judged by the positive reactions of people that have seen them; often reading ‘my’ artistic objectives, or sources of inspirations. For that reason I must assume a genuine source of inspiration which largely, if not instinctively, avoids overwork. I apologize if i failed to adequately explain the creative process, or inspiration that leads to products I sense are not overdone. I should note the need for, optimally, mindful thinking, and meditative repose, I believe is necessary, apart from, and a part of the creative process. No doubt, many artists achieve this naturally. Thank you for considering this personal view.

From: Vivian Anderson — Jul 13, 2010

Robert, this newsletter has hit the mark for me especially. The “walking away” and leaving the painterly unfinished work has helped me enormously recently..it is where I’m only just “at”, and I just know that the imperfections and unfinished painting says more about my way than all those I finished to their detriment. And I receive lots of compliments from other artists, which is the affirmation I so appreciate..thanks for this timely lesson…it took me 25 years to realize this, and I appreciate your affirmation, too.

From: Darla — Jul 13, 2010

The idea of suggestion, rather than depiction, is extremely undervalued in my opinion. You can manipulate it as another element of the picture — line, value, shape, color and definition! Just be careful not to use trite symbols instead of a suggestion of your subject. Anything that pulls the viewer into your picture is a key to effective painting.

From: deb — Jul 13, 2010

some of your letters make me think how it is that one might assume authority over such art that exists as essence of a culture? frame the art of simplicity. creation belongs to one whose inspiration works, using what one learns along the way.

From: Julie Kessler — Jul 13, 2010

In my student days my teacher used to tell me that any artist who includes all the little details shows the whole world that he has nothing better to do.

From: Dwight Williams — Jul 13, 2010

In a lifetime of classes, I’ve always said (in my obvious non-Asia way) “Better undone than overdone.”

From: Doris Weed — Jul 13, 2010

This letter came just in time. My gallery called today and many of my small paintings have been sold or on layaway. He’s asking for more work, which means I will have to go back to acrylics and paint as fast as I can..which will loosen me up. This is where I want to be! Thanks for this insight. Have been reading archived letters and learning alot. Still painting at 74 and getting better I hope.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jul 13, 2010

Yes. A larger brush, a large cup of coffee, and a short time limit can do wonders.

From: Brian May — Jul 13, 2010

We have to slow down here in the West. I have a background in sculpture and ceramics and a really huge interest in both Korean and Japanese ceramics and the idea of allowing a piece to have its own flow and life is very important to me, even if the piece might be a little fat over there and make a little wobbly over here. Those attributes give the piece a life of its own, maybe the pot sits there and sags a little but says “I am not in any hurry, why are you?” and lets someone slow down just for a little bit. Now drawing for me is just the opposite, I tend to want to detail things overly OR I leave them so unfinished and vague that oft times I am not even sure where I was going, if anywhere, with the drawing!! There is certainly a cult of completion in the West that maybe ought to be abandoned just a little so we can truly appreciate the unspoken.

From: Adrienne Elling — Jul 14, 2010

At university I took a painting course the instructor of which was a native Japanese, now an expat. He taught painting in his version of the traditional Western mode. Some students, in a misguided effort to impress him, painted elegant minimalisms, much as are to be found in the watercolors and inks of Japan. One day he pronounced, in his adequate but accented English, lapsing, as if often did, into American vernacular at the end. “Do not paint Japanese way. Simple nothing is nothing. Perfect nothing is still nothing. Less is less. Why paint single chrysanthemum when whole world surrounds? Chrysanthemum been done. Paint wide world! Less is cop out!” At least this is how I remember it, said with passion. He was a wonderful calligrapher, by the way.

From: Caroline Planting — Jul 14, 2010

This is such a good observation! I have been working on a series of figure groups, and started a new one while leaving the overworked old ones alone for a while. What a nice thing to take a big brush and have at it! The freshness is compelling.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jul 15, 2010
From: Ina Beierle — Jul 15, 2010

I recently heard an artist say that a large, well placed brush stroke can convey more information than many small strokes. I am paraphrasing two quotations that I have stayed with me about overworking a painting: if you think the work is 80% finished, chances are it is 90% finished, and the other… it takes two people to paint a picture…one to paint it and another to take it away before it is overworked. In my painting class often students will tell each other to STOP, the painting is great…finished, more often than not, the painter continues until it is no longer as fresh as it was. The poor paint can be worked to its demise as well; I often see artists stroking the same paint over and over until the paint is no longer beautiful, but looks dull and muddy. So, hopefully your words will help to end any urges that I might have to overdo as I use the concept of Mikansei…the Zen of “incomplete”.

From: Catherine Stock — Jul 16, 2010

As a children’s book illustrator, my biggest fear is expending the best and most exciting energy in sketches, no matter how quickly executed. I often need to empty the rubbish bin several times before regaining the fresh quality of the initial explorative sketches.

From: Liz Reday — Jul 16, 2010

Having lived my first nine years in Japan, it is the basis of all my artwork. You would think that I would know by now not to overwork a painting, but often I’m struggling with what exactly I’m trying to say in a painting, mistakenly thinking that the more i paint, the sooner I’ll discover, or stumble onto the answer. But overworking a painting kills it, giving it a labored, stiff look that no amount of fixing can change. Trouble is, the general public adores that “overworked” look! Unsophisticated art buyers will much prefer a painting that has more detail than neccessary and will dismiss the simple perfection of a work with minimal brush strokes. This is a problem when one is trying to sell work to pay the bills. Does an artist create a separate line of work depicting familiar landmarks in excruciating detail in order to sell? Or does artistic integrity prevail, with the artist striving for his own level and lack of finish? There aren’t enough educated art collectors who can appreciate the loose, gestural, ambiguous type of painting, and they usually want to collect famous or newly famous emerging young artists. What to do? One could always eke out a living painting familiar things in realistic and painful detail – and most folks will think it great art and even buy if the price is low enough, but will the artist improve, or just be demoralized for painting “potboilers”. Still, Japanese woodblocks prints were considered art for the common people when they were done. They were not considered fine art back then – but they sure look good now, certainly not the crass commercialized product that they were originally meant to be. But Claude Monet and Van Gogh were inspired and influenced by them.

From: Donna MacDonald — Jul 16, 2010

I agree with you completely!! I believe that artists are like poets; they use brushes and canvases instead of pencils and papers to tell the story of a subject. I want my paintings to draw the viewer in as a participant with hints of background and unfinished areas. I think this makes for a more interesting painting and has been the basis of my work over the last year.

From: Catherine Reed — Jul 17, 2010

I’d like to hear from other fiber artists regarding incompleteness and slight errors. Many of us are still obsessed with technical perfection, maybe due to the craft and domestic sources of our methods, where the goal was to make home made items indistinguishable from those made by machine. We seek perfection, yet perfection makes our work lifeless, boring and impersonal. Let’s rise above the mechanical and enjoy our process. Catherine Reed aka Bouteloua

From: Jack France — Jul 18, 2010

Overstatement is the key to boredom.

From: Eisaku Eiku — Jul 18, 2010

Bores talk too much. Painting bores use too many strokes.

From: Pepper Hume — Jul 19, 2010

Incompleteness is a path I’ve been following recently in my dollmaking. It’s quite a challenge when building form three-dimensionally with a variety of materials. The body of my Mistress of the Owl melts and merges with her indistinct gown and the frozen snow. My current project involves a male figure floating amongst and emerging here and there from swirling cloud-stuff. In sculpting, “an elegant, well-contemplated stroke or two” can take days to develop! Funny thing, harking back to a reference you made recently to FTAS (Fingers and Toes Avoidance Syndrome), I’ve noticed that no matter how much of a figure I may obscure, hands will be the last to go. The irony is that hands are the most difficult part of the figure for me.

From: Adrienne Moore — Jul 19, 2010

I agree completely that achieving this kind of simplicity in a painting is difficult as we seem to need to correct and overwork the painting. The haiku is a very effective a poetry form because of the sparseness of words. Haiku relies completely on the imagination of the reader .So, too ,does abstract painting . I find that my life drawing sessions with a live model really help me to simplify . especially the one minute and two minute poses which demand that the artist draw fast without much apparent thought . Consequently there is no opportunity to overwork the piece …the beauty is in the drawing that is incomplete and under-worked.

From: Victoria Hadden — Jul 19, 2010

Whenever I show a beginning work to an artist chum (also an architect who comes from the ‘School of Less is More’) he often remarks, ‘it’s done’ ( illustrated in the above photos). The same with number two below. But I always feel compelled to go with my instinct and keep painting, and it is all about colour. I used to question whether I ruined a painting because I kept going but fact remains that I never have regrets, just wish I had both versions to sell!

From: Liz — Jul 19, 2010

Being a “Western woman” I think that our eyes have evolved to best function to stimulate us, the beholders, when the image viewed is incomplete. Our brain fills in the gaps. I know I prefer art that is not totally spelled out as it is somewhat insulting.

From: Carmen Beecher — Jul 19, 2010

What a wonderful principle. This is exactly what I have trouble doing, stopping before noodling. And now it has a word, “mujo.”

From: Mary-Sonya Conti — Jul 19, 2010

Finally, I am in tune with your current writings. For the last several months I have been painting with a state of incompleteness. Perhaps it’s merely a phase am going through in developing the art and this too will change. At any rate this suspension between reality and a dream like quality is an answer to the day to day “reality” and find it brings some satisfaction in developing the work.

From: Jack Adams — Jul 19, 2010

One of my favorite stories is of a Kindergarten teacher who’s students always had excellent art-work on display. When asked about the formula for her success as an Art Teacher she smiled and said, “I know when to take it away from them”.

From: Alex Nodopaka — Jul 19, 2010

What an astute essay on the unfinished business. Now I understood the meaning of Unfinished Symphony. It bothered my whole life until dissertation. Of course we Latinos have known this for a while and countered the Japanese Moo-Joh with Mu_cho. Not that we try to make a lot of it but it’s like we like Maximoom pleasure in our life. That’s why we sing most of the time and have all these fiestas about anything occurring in our lives. Especially when we’re dealt the fickle finger of fate with a poor hand.

From: Tatjana — Jul 27, 2010

One thing has not been pointed out. The way paintings evolved in the West is tied closely to deception. You don’t always know what you are seeing, but what the artist wants you to see. Simple is not always simple and the other way around. Ad hoc looking paintings of masters are often developed through many sketches and constructions, and still seem effortless. Think Bacon for example – his art doesn’t bore me at all.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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