There’s a 1933 quote from French poet Paul Valéry that states “Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiêtude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé … mais abandonné” or “In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed …. but abandoned.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about endings. This past Sunday, I finished running a nearly three-year long roleplaying game with friends. Hearing about these kinds of things is a bit like hearing about a dream — it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you were there — so I’ll save you from the details. Suffice it to say, it got me thinking about the creative act of wrapping things up. After writing nearly 130,000 words and spending 120 hours telling a story together, what signs signaled that now was the time to draw the story to a close?
It’s a different facet to the same question that features in the upcoming exhibition From Concept to Canvas: The Artistic Process, opening December 9. The exhibition, featuring series of preliminary sketches alongside the ‘finished’ artworks, all from the Museum’s collection, asks the question: when is it time to hang an artwork on the wall? It’s a question with surprising weight in the history of art. The Impressionists, for example, received particularly vigorous critique over the lack of ‘finish’ in their artworks, going so far as to provoke critic Louis Leroy to declare of Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (upon which the phrase Impressionism was based) that “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished!”
Endings came up again in a recent artist talk here at the Museum. In a lecture on their 2023 BIA artwork, artist Robert Martin responded to an audience member’s question on the same topic. Asked about when their meticulous artmaking process was ‘finished,’ Robert responded that it was usually when it needed to be out the door for an exhibition deadline. Whether exhibition deadlines, the painting process, or even blog endings, perhaps it is as Valéry states, never finished, but rather abandoned…