Knowing your work as “finished” and “successful”

Posted by Dindrane on February 16, 2007 in art |

Genesis tells us that the Judeo-Christian god, after having made the world, looked at it and knew that it was Good. How do we do that as artists, when we look at what we’ve created? When we finish that short story, collage, gourmet meal, or ballet, how do we know that it’s really done and that it needs no more editing? When it accomplishes some pre-determined goal, or just when we can’t think of anything more to do to it?

I assume that each art form (from DJing to haute couture to architecture) has it’s own standards for “success,” and I’m interested in learning what those standards might be. Are there any traits that transcend medium or genre, such as “harmony of color” for any visual art? With my own work, I’m eclectic and undisciplined enough that “completion” is often my main standard to declare a work a “success.”

So what do you think? Does the work have to move emotionally the viewer/listener/reader/whatever? Does it have to be “pretty” or “ugly” or either? Does it have to please anyone but the artist? (This last question makes me think of John Dewey.) Does it need to “speak to the human condition,” be a product of a specific generation, or be identifiable by nationality or gender? Does it need to make a political statement?

I think for me, since my work is rarely for enjoyment and more often for political or social activism, I want my readers (for poetry and short fiction) or viewers (for my visual works) to “get” my point and come to agree with me, perhaps even be spurred to action themselves. Of course, that’s an ultimate and lofty goal, and I would consider myself a success if they even just thought about something. Since I have a somewhat didactic goal, smoothness of prose, perceived beauty, and/or traditional artistry are bonuses, not requirements; technical skill or even sophistry are more necessary.

All in all, it seems that the defining characteristics for knowing any given piece is “Good” depend upon the varied goals of the artist–and having a goal in mind might be necessary, or at least helpful. Any goal is respectable, just know what it is, and you’re halfway there.

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