I have to work constantly, but not in order to arrive at the finish, which attracts the admiration of imbeciles. I must strive to complete only for the satisfaction of becoming truer and wiser.

— Paul Cezanne

One of my teachers used Cezanne’s Still Life with Water Jug to illustrate good composition. Her point was: although unfinished, the painting holds up, as a result of its careful design.

Cezanne often left his paintings unfinished for fear of ruining them with a mistaken brush mark and because he strove not for closure, but “only for the satisfaction of becoming truer and wiser.”

I asked the teacher whether she’d ever leave a painting unfinished. She answered, “No, because I always want to express myself completely.”

Since childhood, I have loved unfinished paintings. I recall staring for hours on end at Stuart’s unfinished George Washington hanging above the chalkboard in my elementary school classrooms, thinking, “How perfect it is!”

For better or worse, I often leave my own paintings in an unfinished state, for the same two reasons Cezanne did.

Cezanne feared that “adding a wrong color or brushstroke would harm the work more than areas of empty canvas,” art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt wrote in Cézanne: Finished Unfinished.

Cezanne—as importantly—also believed perception itself was “unfinished.”

In a letter to fellow painter Emile Bernard, he wrote, “The sensations of color that light gives create abstractions that don’t let me cover my canvas; thus my picture is incomplete.”

Perhaps, being schooled in modernity, present-day viewers accept the unfinished; perhaps not. Certainly not all painters do; my teacher, for example.

Which leads me to wonder, does a painter’s Myers-Briggs type drives her aesthetic?

I believe it does, to wit:

• ISTJs love painting tons of precise details with great accuracy; so do ISFJs, ISTPs, INTPs, INTJs, ESTJs and ESFJs. They will always finish their paintings.

• INFJs—including me—wish above all to convey emotions in their paintings; so do INFPs and ENFJs. They’re content to leave their paintings unfinished.

• ISFPs love painting precise details and conveying emotions; so so ESFPs. They’re apt to finish their paintings.

• ENTJs want to expression their inner visions; and ENTPs like to copy other artists. They’re likely to finish their paintings—unless copying a Cezanne.

• ESTPs want to paint fast and be done with it; and ENFPs never complete a painting—they can’t concentrate that long. They’re not likely to finish their paintings.

What’s your preference?

Finished? Or unfinished?

Above: Still Life with Water Jug by Paul Cezanne, 1893. George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.