“How do you know when the painting is finished?” a student once asked me. I told them it was a tough question and something they had to figure out for themselves.
When I asked my “mentor” in undergrad, he may have actually just shrugged and told me to keep working. It didn’t take me long to understand two amazing lessons that I needed to learn about painting. First, I had to learn to take ownership of my decisions and actions. And second, I had to learn when to stop working on a painting. For an abstract painter, knowing when a painting is finished is a very subjective matter. And sometimes it literally comes down to a gut decision. But.
But, my mentor had known what he was doing all those years ago when he told me to just keep working on it. The only way for me to understand when to stop was to take a painting all the way up to the very point of messing it up. In other words, the best way to understand how not to wreck a good painting…is to wreck enough paintings that you learn to be aware of your actions and know when to stop.
He taught me to adapt and change. He taught me not to be afraid of accidents, or mistakes. He told me to own them. And he taught me that I can always change what I just did. Every mistake, every failure is an opportunity to grow and change, and therefore an opportunity for success. He taught me about life through art, and I will always be in debt to him and the other great teachers I have had.
And even now, when I encounter a challenge or obstacle, and must change in order to overcome, I am not worried, or afraid. I know I can do it. I have faith in God, and I have faith in what I know I can do.
He taught me how to see the big picture, and try to stop focusing on all the details. And it’s one of the best lessons I could have ever learned. Over-working a painting isn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t the end of the story. It was just the beginning.
Orson Welles said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
I like that idea, but I would add that the story itself doesn’t ever stop. I think the secret is forgetting the happy ending, and instead, choosing to be happy in the process of living the story. Enjoy the process, and every day is a happy ending.