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#CreatorsAssemble: Get inspired by unfinished art

If you love to make things, there’s a good chance you live for that moment when you can step back, review the product of all your thought and hard work, and say: “It’s finished!”

16 Apr 2020

Sagrada Familia

In the current circumstances, that’s more difficult. We know that many of you were in the flow of making incredible work when lockdown stopped you from accessing what you needed to complete your projects. But please don’t lose heart or momentum; now more than ever, it’s important to keep creating in whatever way you can.

And we’re here to reassure you that all is not lost. At UCA, we see as much beauty in works-in-progress, as finished products. While we love to see what you create, we’re actually even more interested in how you do it — and that’s how we’ll be looking at the work you’ve made for your portfolios, final projects and assessments.

To prove our point, we’ve rounded up our favourite examples of artworks that were never finished, but are known across the world as some of history’s greatest creations. If you can’t complete your work right now, you’re in great company…

St Jerome in the Wilderness by Da Vinci, which hangs at the Vatican Museum

Arguably the greatest artist and creator who ever lived, Da Vinci’s unfinished masterwork shows an ageing St Jerome at the end of his life, draped in robes revealing his sculptural frame, and a lion sitting passively by his bare feet, mouth agape as if speaking to him.

St Jerome is praying, the struggle with his faith etched on his face as he looks up to the heavens.

The fact that several sections of the piece were never filled somehow makes even it more affecting: it evokes so many emotions — loneliness, despair, the acceptance of fate — and remains one of the artist’s most admired pieces.

This is probably the most famous unfinished piece of art or architecture anywhere in the world, and people travel thousands of miles to see it. Gaudi took over the design of the Sagrada Familia in 1883 and dedicated the rest of his life to its completion. Yet when he died in 1926, it was less than a quarter complete.

Ten years later, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt, destroying everything within — including Gaudi’s plans, drawings and plaster models. Pieces of an original model survived, but it took 16 years to reconstruct. Since then, painstaking work to replicate the original model and fill in the gaps with work inspired by Gaudi have continued; the majestic basilica is still being constructed some 135 years after the first stone was laid, and there are still six years of work left to go.

Without the adverse circumstances Gaudi faced, the world would have been robbed of one of its most impressive and enduring communal architecture projects — one that has brought generations of people together in a shared creative effort.

Picture from the National Portrait Gallery

This was one of the first portraits acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, as its founders wanted to showcase portraits of heroes to inspire visitors.

Wilberforce, who led Britain’s campaign to abolish slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, is said to have captured “the intellectual power and winning sweetness of the veteran statesman” in this portrait.

We agree — the fact that much of the body and background of Wilberforce are missing means that all that is left to do is focus on Wilberforce’s kindly features as his eyes gazing directly at you, and admire the craftsmanship of Sir Thomas.

Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress

There’s tragedy behind this unfinished portrait.

Shoumatoff was in the midst of capturing the 32nd President of the United States on canvas when, three days into sitting for his portrait, President Roosevelt collapsed with head pains. He passed away soon afterwards.

The painting was left as it is, slightly unrefined and in many ways preparatory, and sits in the Little White House, Roosevelt’s holiday home in Georgia. Its unfinished nature provides a timeless echo of a great life and career cut short.

The original vision for this painting would have seen the great author, Charles Dickens, in repose, surrounded by the characters he had created throughout his literary career. But the artist died in 1875, leaving the painting unfinished.

As a result, the cloud-like nature of the paint around Dickens as he dozes in his chair, and the unfinished outlines of the characters he created surrounding him, make it a much more evocative depiction of a dream-like state.

What unfinished works inspire you? And what do you love about the process of creating — perhaps more than the finished product? We’d love to see your best unfinished or work-in-progress pieces — share them with us on our twitter and Instagram pages using the hashtag #CreatorsAssemble.

Most importantly, keep on creating.