Perfectionism is the enemy of creation.

                                                                                          – John Updike

You might recall the recurring lines in The Agony and the Ecstacy, the ponderous Charlton Heston film recounting how Sistine Chapel came to be painted. An impatient pope asks, “When will you make an end?” and Michelangelo snaps back, “When I am finished!”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

It’s the artist’s most-asked, unanswerable question: How do you know when a painting is perfect?

For better or worse, I don’t struggle with the question. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Myers-Briggs inventory, I’m a “judging” type. I like to have things settled; the sooner, the better. Perfection gets in my way.

My take is as follows. A painting is never actually finished because it will never be perfect; it will never be perfect because it’s only a product of your present skill. Your work can be given pride of place on the wall as soon as you’ve done the very best job you can, given your present skill. If you haven’t given it your best, the painting should be trashed.

Remember, Michelangelo said, “When I am finished,” not “When it is finished.” He knew the ceiling could never be finished.

Being a “judging” Myers-Briggs type, were a crabby pope to ask me, “When will you make an end?” I’d answer, “When I’m planning my next.”

A painting is a mile-marker. You set it in the ground. When you look back on it later, you know how far you’ve traveled.

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