Saturday, May 27, 2017

What makes an unfinished work of art a masterpiece?

If you have any unfinished work of art - say a painting, literary manuscript -  which you may have put aside, re-visit it.  Who knows it might turn out to be your masterpiece.
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Image result for Venus de MiloArt leaves something to the viewer that completes it even if it is unfinished. Why Venus de Milo doesn't have arms! She might have had before, so contemporary artists tried to reconstruct the statue. They failed at the end and unanimously agreed Venus is most beautiful as she is. How beautiful she is with imagined arms looming in the fertile mind of the viewer. 

Ernest Hemingway couldn't finish his novel, The Old Man and the Sea. After many attempts, a wastepaper basket by his side, he succeeded in ending up the story the way he intended to be. And his readers are delighted. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize, and Hemingway himself the Nobel Award.

Beethoven's Unfinished Symphony is among the best examples of a masterpiece that was never finished yet became the composer's signature. 

So with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral (photo). Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Fortunately after the architect's death, construction resumed and the cathedral became a landmark in Barcelona, Spain . 

Adoration of the Magi, an unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci remains one of the best Renaissance paintings. Similarly here are other examples. 


  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan 
  • Sir Edward Elgar was composing a Symphony No. 3 at the time of his death and left 130 pages of sketches. 
  • Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind .           He
  •  left behind numerous unfinished films.
  • Hendrix’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun 
  • J. S. Bach's The Art of Fugue breaks off abruptly, and was completed by other composers. 
  • Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 7 and 10 was completed by Brian Newbould 
  •  
  • Mark Twain took 20 years to write three versions of The Mysterious Stranger but he did not finish any of them. 
Who really decides when a work of art is finished? The initial reaction is, "It is the artist." Many viewers may not agree. Perhaps because the preconceived idea did not get across. Or the signature doesn't ring a bell.

Now this is the bias. There's a saying, "the singer and not the song." Many people look at a Picasso, Picasso; Amorsolo as Amorsolo. It's the Imprimatur that counts. So whether finished or not, a work of art may be regarded beautiful. Thus it is not only in the eyes of the beholder.

Unfinished works may not just gather dusts, or forgotten for nought, their fate lies in the artist's favor, or that of artists that take over its completion, often putting in their own variation. Franz Kafka's unfinished writings were released after his death despite his wishes for them to be destroyed.

So if you have any unfinished work of art - say a painting, literary manuscript -  which you may have put aside, re-visit it.  Who knows it might turn out to be your masterpiece.


Michelangelo's Prisoners, or Slaves, were begun for the tomb of Pope Julius II but never finished.In its entirety – including the Dying and Rebellious Slaves in the Louvre and the statue of Moses on the final, reduced version of the tomb eventually erected in Rome – this constitutes the greatest unfinished masterpiece in the world. Yet Michelangelo did not leave things unfinished out of laziness. It is an aesthetic choice. The tragic power of these prisoners as they struggle to emerge out of raw stone is an expression of the human condition that equals Shakespeare's Hamlet. (Internet)

Auguste Rodin was more interested in rough, blemished representations of the human body than idealized forms. He painstakingly immersed himself in his projects, sometimes spending years in order to develop a work of art, regardless of the public’s response. His sculpture was often judged harshly by the public and by critics. Rodin had a penchant for reusing old molds and reworking his earlier ideas.He would continue to alter an existing form until it developed a new identity and a new narrative. Rodin transformed a major work, a bronze sculpture—over the course of two decades—and titled it, The Walking Man.(Internet)

Benjamin West's painting of the delegates to the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolutionary War. Out of shame for their country's defeat, the British delegates refused to pose and so the portrait was never finished. St. Thomas Aquinas stopped work on his Summa Theologiae in 1273 after a mystical experience. (Internet) 

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