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Pleasures of the Unfinished Collage: the Nature of Inspiration (III)

– Posted in: Aesthetics Articles Categories Collage & Montage Creativity Inspiration Masters of Collage Memes Surrealism Wordless Wednesday

I have a big old wire wastebasket which I never empty in which I put things that I think I might work more on, and over a number of years it’s got chock full of beginnings, false starts, some  might say—failures perhaps—but I’ve made a book of them, or what-you-might-call a book, of sixty-four examples of this nameless genre of writing…

—From the preface to Pleasures of the Imagination: 64 Beginnings, by Spencer Holst

In previous posts (“The Nature of Inspiration (I)” and “The Nature of Inspiration (II)”), I’ve spoken about some important steps in my personal journey toward a steady source of creative inspiration. Recently I have become aware of another influence that has contributed to that inspiration: unfinished work.

An Unfinished Life

An Unfinished Life (2013). Digital collage created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.

Seeming dead ends, staircases and roads to nowhere…this landscape of things begun but not completed does not give most of us a happy feeling. Often we slink shamefacedly past these pieces, which peek out of the corners of our studios and workshops, and feel a twinge of conscience as we sneak a look at them. We think they represent personal failures; we believe them to be evidence of our character flaws. We hate being reminded that such half-finished efforts exist, and that we were responsible for making them. And yet we often keep them, painful as they are to us. We even refuse to throw them away. Why? Do we feel guilty? Do we hope that some day we will take them up and finish them, and thus redeem ourselves? Or do we have other reasons for saving unfinished work?

The late Spencer Holst, a writer whom I had the good fortune to count as a friend, created a very unusual relationship with his unfinished and discarded stories. Like almost all artists, he had unfinished work. However, unlike most artists, he faced these fragments bravely. Spencer rarely threw anything out; he saved nearly all of his false starts. Short or long, sentence or paragraph, they stayed in his old-fashioned wire wastebasket. Eventually, at least half a dozen times, he assembled these discards into literary collages that were neither short story nor book, but a surrealistic blend of both. Each of them is an apparent chain of non sequiturs, like unrelated beads on a common string (one of these collages is titled “Charlie Morrow’s Bracelet”). Yet somehow, each time, Spencer managed to create a satisfying whole by bringing together these odd bits and pieces of prose.

Spencer Holst’s collages of re-purposed writings have stimulated my imagination many times over the years, if only in an indirect sense.  And now, more directly, Spencer’s example has inspired me to face my unfinished artwork directly and without the usual feeling of being nagged by things left undone. When free of this feeling, I saw that unfinished work can serve as landmarks to guide one in changing course. Things undone promise the continuity and abundance of creative sources. To those receptive to its teachings, the incomplete is a school that instructs them as no other could. As mistakes aid their own correction, the unfinished helps to complete the work that will follow it.

(All artwork, descriptions, & other text [except for quotations] created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.)

35 Comments… add one

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35 comments… add one
Dominique Goh January 15, 2013, 9:08 am

Tried to leave my link in the linky above but kept on getting an error message.. so am putting in my link here instead.
Glad to read that you managed to finish your unfinished artwork.

Dominique Goh January 15, 2013, 9:10 am

The linky didn’t work for me.
Here’s my post for this wednesday.

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 6:30 pm

Sorry that our link gave you trouble, Dominique. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

Wayne January 15, 2013, 9:55 am

I tried to link up but your linky kept giving me an error message.

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 6:31 pm

Sorry, Wayne! But thanks for letting us know about it. It should be all right now.

self sagacity January 15, 2013, 12:20 pm

Hi, I am having trouble with the link…:-). Something about wordpress, I have blogger(?).

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 6:29 pm

Sorry you had trouble with the link; it’s all fixed now. Thanks for your visit and your comment.

Joyce January 15, 2013, 2:45 pm

Great artwork, but I’m having trouble with your linky.

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 6:26 pm

Thanks, Joyce. I’m sorry you had trouble with the linky. We had it set up wrong, but managed to fix it later on.

stevebethere January 15, 2013, 7:12 pm

Another cracker I like the elements around him

Your Linky seems OK now I did try to comment earlier but it was coming up with errors also

Have a fantabulosa week Eric 🙂

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 6:06 pm

Thanks so much, Steve! I appreciate your kind words. Please feel free to share Art of RetroCollage links with your friends and family. (I’m sorry about the trouble you had earlier with my linky; it was set up wrong. Thanks for returning and having a second go at it!)

DrillerAA January 15, 2013, 7:27 pm

I really look forward to my weekly visit here. It’s always a treat.

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 5:18 pm

Thanks very much for your kind words. I’m happy to hear that you like my posts. Please feel free to share the links to them with your friends and family.

Jackie January 15, 2013, 7:33 pm

I love graphics and thank you so much for the link love!
Happy WW!:-)

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 5:06 pm

Thanks very much, Jackie; it’s a pleasure to host you!

Purita January 15, 2013, 8:25 pm

you have a nice entry..I love collage but i don’t know how to do it myself…visiting from wordless

mine is up here –

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 5:03 pm

Thank you! Actually, collage is one of the simplest artforms for anyone to learn and do: this link ( gives several different suggestions for how to start.

Alissa Apel January 15, 2013, 9:53 pm

The piece is cool, so are the edges of it!

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 4:55 pm

Thanks very much, Alissa! I realized after I’d done the piece that the border seemed to fit in well with the theme of things left unfinished.

AVCr8teur January 16, 2013, 12:22 am

Think of the saved work in your wastebasket as your brainstorming repository. Go through it some day to pick up new inspirations.

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 4:15 pm

That’s it, perfectly summed up in a nutshell. Thanks very much for your comment!

Kat January 16, 2013, 2:30 am

That is so perfect – thanks for hosting

mine is up here

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 4:13 pm

Thanks, Kat!

Raquel January 16, 2013, 7:54 am

that pictures looks so very abstract! seems like to be more creative with all the beautiful colors on it. 🙂

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 4:10 pm

Thanks very much, Raquel!

Erika January 16, 2013, 8:43 am

Oh boy, Eric – I know all about unfinished projects, he he he! Great that you can gain such inspiration from them!

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 4:08 pm

Thanks…Yes, Erika, it seems like all of us at one time or another become familiar with them! But it would be nice to benefit openly and consciously from unfinished work, rather than just feel guilty about it, as I have in the past.

Janet@TheCatOnMyHead January 16, 2013, 11:49 am

Thanks for your very thought-provoking post. I am the master of unfinished things. Someone once told me that people who can fully conceive something in their mind’s eye often do not find the need to finish it. And a widely-published poet from whom I once took a workshop talked about our poems that never quite came to fruition as not being unfinished but rather abandoned. I do have many of those squirreled away and may need to do as Spencer Holst. As I said…food for thought.

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 3:29 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Janet. In some sense, I believe, we all are masters of unfinished things. It might benefit all of us to come into a healthier and more conscious relationship with our unfinished projects. They’re not just abandoned; they represent an essential stage in heading towards what we will do in future. Without having attempted them, we might not know what was possible, or what was still missing from our efforts. Our unfinished work may have many such interesting things to tell us. I’m grateful to Spencer Holst for showing me a way to start listening to my “abandoned” artwork.

Rosey January 16, 2013, 8:13 pm

Unfinished work can be VERY inspirational, especially when it’s had time to brew awhile (and you’ve stepped away a bit). Happy WW!

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 9:43 pm

Very true, Rosey. Thanks for your visit and your insightful comment!

Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly January 16, 2013, 9:36 pm

I’m also getting weird messages from the linky widget, here is mine:

I do agree that ‘un-finished’ projects can be utilized much like a Vision Board, and can come to ‘artistic fruition’ when we are in a different stage of life or frame of mind. I also like to re-read some books every 5 years or so, because I oftentimes get a very different perspective on them after certain experiences of my own!

Eric Edelman January 16, 2013, 9:45 pm

I agree with you on both counts, Tracy. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and your visit!

Leovi January 17, 2013, 4:50 am

Delicious color combination.

Eric Edelman January 17, 2013, 10:59 pm

Thanks very much, Leovi; praise from a master!

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