Is a Work of Art Ever Finished?

mcescher-hands

Whenever I re-read something I wrote, I always find things to edit and change, whether it’s actual mistakes or just rewording sentences to make them more clear and readable. Yet when I last left the work, I thought it was perfect—not actually perfect, as there’s no such thing as “perfect” in art, but as close to perfect as I could make it. However, every time I re-read anything I previously thought was perfect, I always find things to change. Why is that? Did I miss those things before? Or Is my idea of perfection changing?

I think it’s a bit of both. The “me” reading my work months or years after writing it is literally a different person. He has seen, read, and heard new things since then that has changed his perception and consciousness. Therefore his idea of perfection is different. He’s learned how to write better. A writer continually improves at the craft of writing the more they write, so a writer will always find things in their old work that they would do differently now, assuming they’ve been writing since then.

Beyond the craft, I’m also learning new things about the world, history, philosophy, science, psychology, and human nature. Many things I wrote believing wholeheartedly in the past, I don’t necessarily agree with any longer after learning new information. As it should be.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” He was totally right about that. I could continue refining and editing my fiction forever, making slight tweaks to improve it. Of course that’s not feasible. Eventually an artist has to release their work. But what then? What happens when a writer publishes something that, years later, they wish they could change—such as George Lucas changing Star Wars so Han Solo didn’t shoot first. Should an artist re-finish their previously abandoned art?

I personally faced this dilemma with my short story “I am Invisible.” I originally published it as a stand-alone piece, but I changed the ending when I included it in my collection, Story Addict a couple of years later. While re-reading the story, the ending didn’t feel right, so I changed it. My case was different than Star Wars, in that so few people had actually read the original version, so to most of the world it was still “unpublished,” but I still struggled with the decision. In Story Addict, I explained why I did it, which involves spoilers. But generally speaking, in most cases, I don’t think artists should go back to alter their previously released work.

If you are living, your consciousness is always evolving, based on everything you experience in life. For better or worse, an artists’ interests, tastes, and styles change over time, some more than others. Present/Future Me may not agree with what I wrote, but Past Me believed it when he wrote it. History shouldn’t be rewritten—it should stand as it was, warts and all. If you no longer stand by your previous work, then you should respond, not by erasing and editing the past, but by creating something new that reflects your current state of mind.

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