The Art of Finishing Things, A Meditation on Writing and the Paintings of Lia Porto

There is no art in things left unfinished. There is no value in the incomplete. There is nothing meaningful in the unresolved.

There are many things in the unfinished that can be admired: hope, inspiration, creativity, passion, indifference and ideas but not art.

Art happens at the finish line.

Art is where inspiration meets discipline, where passion meets fortitude, where creativity meets work. Art is when the work is complete and ready for an audience. It is when the artist reaches satisfaction, a place that is beyond exhaustion and knows there is no more work to be done. “I am finished.”

I have no doubt there are many amazing words on pages, brushstrokes on paintings and chords with half a tune that could grab us by the heart or the throat, making us stop in our tracks desperate for more. But if there is nothing more offered, then what is the use?

Finishing the thing is the final push that turns inspiration into art. It is easy to get started. We have all started a million things. How many have we finished? Finishing is the hardest part. Finishing the work is what separates the artist from the amateurs, posers, pretenders and fakers.

I’ve always taken inspiration from both the performance arts and the visual arts. Performance has influenced how I write dialogue, movement and story. Theater has inspired me to think about what happens onstage and off stage to carry the story forward.

Photographs have also inspired me. A glimpse of a single moment in time and I find myself imagining what happened before and after the shutter snap and flash. I love black and white photos, sensual photos, grainy old photos.

Recently, I’ve been less interested in photography and more interested in paintings. The paintings of Lia Porto, especially have captivated me.

The Art of Lia Porto

Lia Porto’s paintings make me feel as if I am pulled to them, as if a string attached to my chest is tugging at me to bring me closer to make me look at every detail. I could look at her paintings for hours. I have a desire to consume her paintings with my mind.

But as much as I admire the beauty, I also admire and am awed by the work she puts into each piece and the discipline it must take to simply get it done.

To me, it looks like work. Each brush stroke. Each color. Getting the shapes right. Finding the contrast. It looks like work, hard work, tedious work. So many brush strokes to create the picture. Yet she starts with a blank canvas, just like I start with a blank page.

When art resonates with us, we often begin to think of the artist. What inspires her? Is her art a magical gift that flows from her with ease? Or is her art the result of training, like a classical pianist spending hours upon hours practicing the keystrokes so that the feeling will come through the music with ease. The music moves us, but playing the music is a skill that requires training and practice. Did the training awaken the genius or the other way around?

There’s a myth that artists are wild drunks who have lives filled with chaos and drama. Their creativity is born from a lack of restraint that allows their minds to wander into new worlds of ideas. I don’t buy it. Crazy is just crazy if it can’t be expressed in a way that connects with an audience. A genius is just a drunk if he never shares his thoughts. A wildman is just a character if he never brings forth something to share. Talent needs discipline, practice and work to become art.

When I look at Porto’s work, I wonder, “Does she see the painting in her mind before she starts and it’s simply a matter of transposing the image to canvas? Or does she start with a single expression, a color, a shape, a feeling and let the painting happen to her?”

My stories happen to me as much as I happen to my stories. I start with a character or an event. I start with something I want to say but saying it outright is grotesque so I fabricate a world in which the story will say it. I want the reader to say it to himself while reading, to think it is his idea even though I have carefully crafted a world just for the purpose of giving him that idea. Sometimes the idea gets lost in the story as the wildness of imagination takes over and carries me on a tangent. And this is when I get lost in writing. I lose my focus and then, I lose interest.

I have hundreds of unfinished stories that got lost in tangents. I have hundreds of idea pages and notes and sketches that are unfinished and never will be. What a waste. The moment is gone. My lack of discipline and focus disgraced my inspiration. My drafts are meaningless. They are not art.

No one would want an unfinished painting. It’s easy to look at it and know what it is missing. White canvas, thin paints, discord. It’s an insult to look at an unfinished painting, especially if a lazy artist tells you it’s done. The hell it is. We can tell.

Unfinished ideas are the thing of business, not art. Beta testing, early roll outs, version one point oh, two point oh. Finish it after you sold it, get a focus group, customer feedback, have a budget line for repairs. If it’s awful, have a recall. It’s the cost of doing business.

It is in the finishing and completion that makes something art, that makes it whole. It is the combination of talent and practice that lets the music flow, the words write themselves, the images satisfying. How do you get there?

Surely the artist starts getting ideas about the next piece before the current one is finished. I do this in my writing. I am ready to move on before I have typed out the final pages. I get bored with the work of the story because the action has already been completed in my head. There is no more adventure of discovery in writing when I know what happens in great detail to everyone. I’m only interested in the unknown. The known bores me. The known is tired. But I can not share the journey with readers if I do not finish the work. And I can not leave them hanging before the final discovery is revealed. No one wants to read that. No one wants to be left hanging.

It’s harder to tell with a story or a book if the work is done. The words are there, the pages are there. Until you read it front to back you don’t know if it’s done. And if it is unsatisfying is it because of the quality, the style or because it was unfinished?

Visual artists and musicians do not get the benefit (or crutch) of that grey area. We can see with our own eyes and hear with our ears if the work is unfinished.

I look at Lia Porto’s paintings. Some are huge, measuring as wide as 80 inches. She paints on the floor, with small brushes. She navigates her body around the piece, avoiding the wet strokes she just painted. She lets it dry, she starts again. She adds depth and contour. She finishes every detail. She finishes the work. She is an artist bringing her inspiration to completion.

Lia Porto

Porto has said about her art; “I take from the natural world certain shapes, certain behaviors, because I find in them a place where to spread my pictorial gesture. I’m attracted to the nutritive, the affluent, the gorgeous.”

We can see this in her work. We see her intention, her inspiration, played out on canvas in full color, texture, shape and form. When she tells us this is the heart of her creation we can nod and agree, We see it.

“There’s a rhythm, a movement, like in the water or the air. Something that patterns, leaving traces in the canvas, traces that evidence the search, the joy, the tension, the balance.” Lia Porto

I wonder, when I look at Porto’s work, if the canvas is her stage then what else is happening off stage, in her life? Surely she has the same interruptions we all do. She gets hungry, she runs errands, she has conflict with her spouse, she loses a friend, she gets tired. She has the same interruptions, obligations, responsibilities. She has the same excuses. But she gets the work done. Her finishing is a gift to us. If she left her work unfinished we would not get to enjoy, savor and delight in the beautiful work. Her art is her contribution to the world. As carefree and whimsical or crazy and wild as she may be (I have no idea) she must also have routine, discipline, fastidiousness, determination. She must have those qualities that we have labeled unartistic. They seem rote. They are so unsexy. But without them, she would never finish. She would not be an artist if she did not have both the eye for the new and the skill of the practiced. Genius is the same as crazy if it can’t be expressed. Finish the work and you have art.

This is a reminder to me, and to you, to get er done. Finish your project. Find the discipline to do the work. Your creativity is nothing if it is incomplete.

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