Diminishing Returns

Every painting, no matter how successful, leaves the artist
with another chance to paint what she had in mind.

— Robert Brault

“Blessed is he who expects nothing,” goes Alexander Pope’s Ninth Beatitude, “for he shall never be disappointed.”

Painters who’ve worked in industry seem to know when to quit, almost by intuition.

Deadlines and the cost of goods have molded their instincts.

As a freelance copywriter for many years, I learned to spend just a few hours researching, writing, and editing any piece of copy I produced before handing it to my client, always with the guilty knowledge that it could be better, but only at the point of diminishing returns.

Painting surely can’t be exempt from the law of diminishing returns, no more than copywriting, accounting, programming, teaching, or nursing.

Yet it’s not easy to know when to quit.

I could have continued refining New Dragon Takeout, for example, redrawing the rice to heighten the feel of its granularity.

But I chose instead to quit.

There’s a droll scene in the BBC film Mr. Turner where the artist storms into a public exhibition carrying a dollop of crimson paint on his index finger.

He blots it on one of the paintings, turning the work from “just another Turner” into an unquestionable masterpiece.

The gallery visitors break out in applause.

We all wish we could perfect every one of our paintings.

But, then. we’re all not Turner.

Above: New Dragon Takeout. Oil on canvas. 21 x 16 inches. Robert Brault’s inspiring Thoughts on Art and Artists can be found here. You can watch the extraordinary 2014 biopic Mr. Turner here.