Monday, February 22, 2016

On Finishing and The Gordon Lightfoot's Greatest Hits Phenomenon

I admit it.  I used to have completion issues. My arts and crafts basket shelf closet studio used to be packed with almost finished and barely started projects.

Not any more, my friends. Or, to be truthful, not as often. In my ripening age, I have successfully mind hacked myself to reduce the number of UFO's showing up in my skies.

Exhibit A. 'Stranded Home' is an experimental piece that I started over a year ago. I was thinking about subject matter that naturally lends itself to a fibre medium. In early 2015, our house sold with a quick closing date and it got packed away. It's been hanging out half-finished in my 'To Finish' pile ever since.

Stranded Home, 6 x 8, Wool and beeswax on panel

Voila! Finished product accompanied by satisfaction, not so much because of the end result, but because it is finished.

And one more former-UFO (that's UnFinished Object, if you're wondering) ready to be released into the wild:

Bark, 6 x 8, Wool, bamboo, and beeswax on panel

Yes, 'Bark' is an unusual piece for me. I was literally studying the texture of bark, allowing myself only black, white and a single grey. While the end result looks very little like bark, there is something intriguing about it. Most importantly, however, I finished it!

So, obviously, I've been thinking a lot about finishing stuff lately and why I can do it now when I spent so many frustrated years getting close, only to stop short with the finish line in sight.

If my life were a movie, this part would be a montage of me throwing tantrums as I tried to force myself to finish something, scraps of fabric and yarn flying around the room in the upheaval before I managed to get a grip, calm down, and finally smile with satisfaction as I completed my first project. Repeat.

The wisdom I acquired through this process can be distilled into two points:

  1. Finishing for finishing's sake has merit. What do I mean by this? I am a self-learner. Behind most of my projects lurks something I am trying to learn - a technique, a subject, a 'what happens if I do this?'. Once I had answered that question to my satisfaction (or thought I had), I would quit, thinking I had achieved my goal. But not so. Until a piece is declared finished, there is always more to learn. And finishing things is like eating broccoli - it's good for you and builds strong bones.
  2. Every work does not have to be a masterpiece (aka 'The Gordon Lightfoot's Greatest Hits Phenomenon'.) In our world of ready access to all things 'greatest' - greatest art, greatest music, greatest people* - it is easy to forget or even be unaware of the maybe not so great work that goes on. We see only the greatest hits. And maybe we feel like everything we do has to be a greatest hit too. And if it's not, why bother finishing? You know the answer. I know you do. It's because there is value in the process. Because we learn from every piece. Because hits can't exist without the misses.
What does Gordon Lightfoot have to do with it? His music brought this lesson home to me, as follows:

I love Gordon Lightfoot's greatest hits. Don't judge me. 'If You Could Read My Mind' is perfect understated tragedy. So I decided to listen to everything he ever recorded. And, to be honest, I wasn't crazy about most of it. I preferred his 'greatest' stuff. Which is when it dawned on me that there is a reason why those ARE his greatest hits. Because they are thought to be the best of what he did. And he did some other stuff too that was maybe not so good.

So, if Gordon Lightfoot can have some hits and also some misses, why can't I? That doesn't mean I don't finish something if I think it might not be a masterpiece. It means I finish it, learn what I can from it, and move on. And over time, after years of practising my art or craft or whatever you want to call it, I too will have a body of greatest hits. Woo hoo!

But that can't happen, if I never finish anything.

* 'Greatest' is an odd word when you think about it. Isn't it like saying 'bestest'? Okay, I guess not - great, greater, greatest vs. good, better, best....but still, it sounds weird.  Just sayin'...