Tips for artists #5: knowing when a work is finished

Creating an artwork isn’t always easy, as it requires inspiration, time, equipment, and space. But knowing when a work is finished is even more difficult.

So here’s what I recommend:

Leave the door open.

In the past, when I felt that a series was finished, I stopped working on it.
I thought I had reached my goal and had to move on. It happened many times. However, this is something I sometimes regret. You don’t know how often I’ve said to myself, “Oh, I’d love to work on this series again”, but it wouldn’t seem justified.

This led me to an important change: I have decided not to end my series until I’m truly satisfied with what I have done.

Let’s talk about my latest series: “Nuits Blanches” and “Asymétrie”.
“Nuits Blanches” is a very intimate work about my sleepless nights.
It only contains 3 images for the moment, mainly because it’s not easy to show what‘s in my head without creating something too figurative.
I also don’t want to end this series, because I know that the struggles I talk about will probably be in my life for a very long time. So I’m sure they will provide me with other ideas.
And come on, 3 photos in a series?! It’s definitely not enough!
I’ve created more images for my “Asymétrie” series because it’s easier.
I think I have between 10 and 14 images. I’ve already exhibited this series several times. Yet, it’s not finished. I want to create at least one more photograph. And I will continue to work on this series until I am completely satisfied with what I have done, even though I think I’ve already reached my goal.
Do you know why I don’t stop?
Because I can!

Asymétrie (2019 — ongoing)

Indeed, as an artist, you can do whatever you want with your work. If you want to work on a series for a week, a month or a decade, you can. No one is forcing you to end your series. If you think there’s a small chance that you might rework your series one day, leave the door open. The term “ongoing” can still be used, even if the series was started a long time ago.

Take a step back.

If you want to know if your series is complete, there are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do you feel like it’s finished?
  • Is there a chance that you’ll end up creating another artwork for this series?
  • Do your works match your statement?
  • Are there enough works in this series?
  • Are the works good enough to be exhibited?

All these questions will help you decide whether to continue this series or end it. If you’re not sure about the answers, you should ask for someone’s help. By the way, just because a series is ongoing doesn’t mean you can’t exhibit it. As I said, I’ve already exhibited my “Nuits Blanches” and “Asymétrie” series, even though they’re not finished yet.

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Pauline Le Pichon

I’m a French visuel artist, freelance photographer, instructor and writer.