To Polish or Not to Polish

November 10, 2012

Looking back at old sketchbooks and quick studies, I find myself falling in love with the smaller quick works I have done. In my last couple semesters of art school, I definitely struggled with the concept of what a completed work was and how much “finish” it needed to have. This question is not unique to me; throughout art history you can see artists pushing the boundary of what was considered a wall-worthy piece.

Of course the first piece that comes to mind is Manet’s scandalous Luncheon on the Grass:

Manet, Luncheon on the Grass

This image is now an important part of art history. It draws my attention, not because of the nude woman with the clothed men or because they are in modern dress, but it grabs me because Manet has played with the proportions, the space. The woman in the “back” of the scene is too large according the space Manet appears to be setting up. Despite how refined this piece seems to be, to me it represents Manet rebelling against the conventions of his time, against the polish.

As I began taking an inventory of other “rebellious” pieces of work I could recall, I thought of both favored and hated pieces.

Munch, The Village Street 1906

Alice Neel, Pregnant Woman 1971

Julian Schnabel, St. Francis in Ecstasy 1980

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Skull) 1984

R.B. Kitaj, The Autumn of Central Paris 1972-73

Egon Schiele, Girl with Purple Stockings 1913

Jenny Saville, Time

Then, there are the beautiful pieces that we don’t even know if the artists themselves considered finished pieces, but we put them in museums or on pinterest anyways.

Degas, Nude Woman Drying Herself 1880

Rembrandt, Self-portrait with Open Mouth

Kirchner, Ruhendes Paar

Picasso, Portrait of Fernande Olivier

A completed piece of work cannot be labeled under the narrow characteristics of quality materials, a polished look or value according to a gallery owner. Fun, quick, or un-polished pieces continue to exist because the artists allow/allowed them to. While beautifully rendered works strike me with awe, these strange or misfit pieces speak to something more human in me, just like my own sketches. I am glad that both types are able to exist in this world.

Look. Listen. Respond.


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