An excellent recent blog post by Mark Graf deals with a quote I had never heard before:
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” - Leonardo da Vinci
As is often the case, Mark’s posts stimulate thought. I commented on his blog that I often develop an image soon after making it if I feel I can capture the emotion I felt while in the field. This allows me to most precisely create an image that reflects both my feelings about an experience and also the colors, contrast, and general biological attributes of the scene. In this way, my “finish” point is based on a fresh memory. It’s not so much an “abandonment”, as in I don’t know what else to do to the image so I will just leave it be, as it is a recognition that the finished piece is what I intended when I started the process in the field.
The result of working on an image while the experience is fresh in my mind often results in a finished piece that also reflects closely what I saw. Although, once I am physically removed from the scene, if only by hours, every image becomes an interpretation based on memory. An especially exciting experience may be remembered more “vividly” than it would have appeared to someone standing next to me while I made the image in the field. I am of course perfectly OK with this (not that I have a choice really), as what I am creating is always an impression of an experience, not the actual experience. Neither film nor camera sensors record anything exactly as they appear. Film always had color and contrast biases. Working in digital format can be just the reverse of film (if working in Raw) in that it can require almost total artistic input due to the little pre-determined color or contrast decisions made by the camera.
So what happens to an image not developed soon after the field experience, but instead worked on six months or even years later? Well, like any other art I use all my experiences with the subject (some of which may be new since making the image), and my current mood and esthetic tastes to make a finished piece that reflects who I am at that moment. In this case, I have less of a “field intended result” in mind and more of a “current state” of mind on which to determine when a piece is “finished”. A year later I may be in a different state of mind still and work the image differently.
I suspect da Vinci didn’t foresee photography when he made his quote (or did he?). Photography, unlike many other art forms, may always be a work in progress, allowing different interpretations by the artist without end. It may not be so much a matter of abandonment as it is a temporary withdrawal (a temporary satisfaction). Because, unlike a painting which must be cast off (abandoned) if it is ever to find itself with a new owner, an original photographic image is always within reach of a new interpretation by the photographer. Unless of course you consider each iteration of a photographic image a form of abandonment, in that case……never mind.
Blue Bird - (c) Paul Grecian