Jumping in the deep end wasn’t something I willingly did when I was the victim of the screaming swimming teacher for the Girl Scout swimming badge. I believe she was ex-Gestapo. I knew how to swim but she terrified me so I never finished the work for the badge (nor the cooking badge either for that matter, but I did get the butterfly badge because nobody told me to do it).
Leonardo’s grand scale of ”the unfinished’ is of course on an altogether loftier level than my nine-year-old poolside failure and his has been a topic for thought throughout the re-acquaintance with his story over the last months.
Reasons Artists Procrastinate
1. Fear: as long as something is unfinished it can’t be thought or said to be bad or wrong.
2. Not wanting to cut the umbilical cord: when the process is complete you lose the tissue of thought that enriched your mind while working on the piece – the adventure, the discovery, the story-the work becomes a lone thing on its own.
3. Another compelling project steals your mind and you forget what interested you in the previous work by the time you go back to it. You have moved on. You have changed.
4. Starting: there are too many options and you can’t establish the fences.
5. Environment: too many interruptions, temptations, distractions, visitors.
6. There would be more, not the least of which would be money – the need to put ready-money jobs ahead of long term ‘masterworks.’ And of course with Leonardo we don’t know how much has been lost, so the notebooks may only suggest the scope of his fecundity.
The notebooks give us a clue though. For me there is such an intense pleasure sitting in some one of Salt Lake’s coffee houses with my sketch book, pen, 3-4 hours in hand and just thinking forward in my work. The projects I want to do – ideas about art history I’m chewing on along with my burnt pear tart; or trying to sketch the drama of a figure in motion on a canvas…or realizing that if energy and matter are exchangeable, what might time be exchangeable with?
We can’t exchange our mind set with Leonardo, however modern he was or empathetic we are. The time, place and historical heritage are too great. But we can touch our own incomplete moments and know that they somehow bind us to one of the greatest divergent thinkers ever and that maybe ‘the unfinished’ is the most delicate and subtle of his legacies, asking the future with deference: “So what do you think? I’ve told you a lot about what I think..now it’s your turn.”
Cutting us loose.