Why should this be? That's something I've been thinking about recently, because I've been wondering if settling on a reason for not completing work might lead to a degree of self-knowledge which could help in structuring a more focused approach to my work. Unfortunately, I suspect that the reasons are several and quite often interrelated.
First of all, I simply enjoy the early stages in a painting, when it's possible to be free in the application of paint and when the picture has countless possibilities within it.
Secondly, once the painting reaches the point of being almost done, I can see whether or not it's achieved any or all of its original potential. At that stage it's tempting to leave that one and take up a new challenge.
The problem with both of these is fairly obvious but is worth setting out here - I'm a professional artist who needs something to set out on his metaphorical stall. Less obviously perhaps, there is the belief (a belief I subscribe to) that the creative process isn't complete until the work has been seen by someone other than the creator.
What I've begun to consider is whether I may be going astray due to a willingness to tackle a subject merely because it looks like it would make a good picture.
In one of his interesting email newsletters ("Mere Interest Versus Passionate Interest"), creativity coach Eric Maisel explains how "many things interest me, but not to the same extent. Some are mere interests, others fuel brainstorms."
He goes on to argue that it's imperative for the artist "to learn to distinguish between those things that interest him and those things that really interest him" [my emphasis]. Failure to make that distinction can lead to a misguided attempt to build up something of interest into something we hope can become of passionate interest.
Looking back over my unfinished paintings, I can readily see that some of them arose out of an interest in the subject matter, but an interest that failed to rise above "mere interest". By contrast, my series of vaporetto paintings and the subsequent paintings of Prague trams came from something that really excited me.
When faced with the consideration of a new subject, is it possible to determine whether it really has that quality of excitement about it that will lead to passionate work? Maybe, but as Maisel says:
"..... we know from the history of human effort that it is entirely possible for a person to spend years on a project that seemed unmistakably rich a t first blush and that turned out to have been chosen for unfortunate reasons. At that moment of choosing, some other richer project may have seemed too arduous, some other richer project may have seemed commercially risky, some other, richer project may have seemed too vague to pursue. So the [artist] convinces himself that he is passionate about his [chosen project], and actually he isn't. That something grabs you does not mean that you should let yourself be grabbed."
What I need to do, I guess, is try decide which of those unfinished paintings are worth finishing at all. Many of them are. But there are those that under close scrutiny will fail to meet the "passionate about" test; of those, some will be worth finishing because the effort involved will be minimal enough to justify it in terms of having a painting available for sale. The rest can be consigned to the dustbin, or painted over.