So far, I have been using the question, “when is a piece of music finished?” as the main research question and it has acted as the central impetus in the creation of my complete collection of captured musicking. Upon the discovery of the fluctuating term musicking, as opposed to static state associated with the definition of music, and we as people are similarly in a flux state, when these two notions are observed in tandem, the question of “when is a piece of music finished?” becomes “can a piece of music finished?” After months of reflection on these questions, it was not until I was asked, “what do I mean by finished?” that brought forth some truly profound lines of thought. What did I mean by finished? Or complete? And how on earth does one even begin to quantify for completion when the parameters of such a notion will surely vary wildly due to the preceding ideas that both the creator (musician) and the creation (their music) are ever changing and developing? These kinds of discussions permeate across all art forms and I have found the discourse around art completion to be richly contested and debated between a great number of scholars in the realms of academia in their analysis of artists and their art. For this post, I will mostly be focussing on the works of Patrick Grafton-Cardwell and Rohrbaugh to review their views on what they deem to be the Parameters of Completion, and then offer my perspective in relation to what I have gleaned about art completion during bringing my Tunes to fruition over the last year.
The is the Way
The first hurdle to overcome is a rather simple one, and in my view, a gentle start in the race to the finish line; are there many ways to determine when a piece of music is finished or is there just one or are there many but one way is objectivity the most important? This is the dichotomy between pluralism and monism completionism. Unfortunately, in respect to my feelings on the matter, it would seem apparent extant theories on completionism are, “implicitly assuming priority completion monism” (198) - perhaps this first hurdle is not as simple as I presumed it would be. Thankfully, Grafton-Cardwell’s thorough review and discussion on art completion puts forth a strong case for pluralism, stating that, “Our concerns are moral, legal, social, theoretic, artistic, aesthetic, and ontological…A work can be intuitively complete according to a sense of completion that tracks one property but not another, and in these cases there is no reason to say that one sense of completion is tracking an objectively more important property. The only good explanation for this is that completion pluralism is true” (198). And to balance the scales, they also provide a solid argument against monism, in regards to the notion that there is one objective philosophy of completion that is the most foremost, by critiquing two current philosophies of artwork completion; the first being what Rohrbaugh calls psychologism and the second, again from Rohrbaugh, termed satisfactionism by Grafton-Cardwell.
On a fundamental level, psychologism is the view that an artist will make a decision on when their art is complete that is rooted in their psychology. Rohrbaugh is not the sole advocate of this kind of art completion; Livingston, Archer, Trogdon and Gover have all put forth their endorsements, albeit with variations of interpretation (I can flippantly assume that their interpretations exist due to their own existing dispositions). According to Grafton-Cardwell, the principle properties of debate surround psychologism centre around three issues:
Whether completion has discernible limits.
Whether it is formed at the end of the work.
And whether it has to incorporate either a decision from the art, involve their inherent qualities of their mental makeup or whether distillation of completion can stem from different kinds of psychological states (199).
At first glance, I found psychologism to be rather inviting until I got to the line in Grafton-Cardwell’s article, ““Psychologism aims to give us an account of when an artist has stopped working on something” (200). For me, this doesn’t hold true for the fact that I am constantly refining myself, my music, and my creative practice. This point also pushes back against the problem with satisfactionism, but allow me to finishing discussing psychologism since the discourse surrounding it illuminates some interesting concepts.
Termed Rohrbaugh’s Regress by Wesley Cray, it centres around the problems found with Rohrbaugh’s advocation for there being a single most important kind of artwork completion. To fully understand the issues with this, Grafton-Cardwell breaks down psychologism into two parts; judgement and disposition. With the former, it is the idea that a work is complete on the basis of whether or not the artist judges the work to be complete. Upon closer examination of this idea, it quickly becomes apparent that this itself is riddled with the issue of determining completion due to the fact that the artist has to judge what they have judged for the work to be complete (199). With the latter, as discussed by Trogdon and Livingston, it is the idea that the art is complete only if they have, ‘acquired a completion disposition with respect to their work” (199 emphasis added). The issue with this idea is the difficulty in determining whether the artist has truly finished the art or is surfeited and is finished with the art, so abandons it.
COMPLETE INCOMPLETES - NON-FINITO
During his argument against completion monism, and the problems he has unearthed with psychologism, Grafton-Cardwell shines a light on Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor; commonly referred to as the “Unfinished”. This unofficial moniker comes from it being a created as a symphony, but since symphonies require certain elements to be officially regarded as a symphony that the piece is lacking, it is objectively unfinished, but deemed complete by the composer (in this particular case Schubert stopping working on the piece so this perhaps relates to the problems with completion disposition). Sometimes referred to as non-finito, this idea as been seen throughout art history with some artist’s (notably Michelangelo on one occasion even signing their work faciebat as opposed to fecit; “Michelangelo was doing this” instead of “Michelangelo did this” (link to NY article). I am including this in the discussion because it brought forth the temporary epiphany, that would later develop into a more well rounded thought, that I have maybe always seen my music as incomplete since I myself feel incomplete as a creator; the consequence of this is the dormant compositional archive of over seventy tracks I have mentioned throughout these posts. For now, that will be all the time I keep in you Tangent City before moving on to the second philosophy of artwork completion - satisfactionism.
Satisfactionism, the term coined by Grafton-Cardwell in his review of Rohrbaugh’s work from 2017, is succinctly described as, “the view that an artwork is complete if and only if it is intrinsically such as to have satisfied the artist’s creative plan, their intentions in making the work” (199). As with psychologism, I was once again immediately drawn to this kind of philosophy because, on initial inspection, I felt it resonated with my approach to my work; I’m a persistent planner with a proclivity to preparation. Using my project as an example, it began with forty four tracks to be released and slowly became more and more refined until I reached the current plan of nine. The point I am making with this is that plans change and more often than not, it is because we change through the process as we are Thinking Through Making and the consequence of doing this are changes to our plans and subsequent transformations of project. The hope for satisfactionism was to deliver the same outcome of psychologism, a means of determining art completion, while mitigating the pitfalls found in its philosophy. However, Grafton-Cardwell raises satisfactionism’s crucial flaw when it comes to an artist’s plan; “when an artist appears to “settle” by publishing a work that does not satisfy their plan…the artist is really altering their plan to fit the present state of the work. In effect, the creative process is one where intentions and work both change until they fit each other” (200). This is exactly what has happened to me over the course of this project; my grand plans for my art where the initial spark for my research, but my research then influenced my art, and this cycle has been consistent throughout the entire time - a symbiotic creative relationship. For me, when every part of the road to satisfactionism philosophy is build on moving ground, it is a road I will not be travelling down with my compositions as the vehicle for exploring, “when is a piece of music finished?”
So to summarise, both of these philosophies of art completion have their merits and blind spots, but to claim that one of them is objectively the sole rule for what it means for a work to be complete is too restricting for a medium that is so variable in its execution and interpretation. To reduce them to their key components, psychologism accounts for when the artist has ceased to work on their work whereas satisfactionism covers the completion criteria when the work aligns with the artist’s grand plan for it. However, satisfactionism will miss the intuitive/instinctive reasons for completion that psychologism accounts for and does not account for the fact that grand plans often go awry and suffer from the shifts in perception that come with time. And lastly, I feel that psychologism relies too heavily on an artist’s ever changing psychology for me to view it as a concrete means of creative conclusion in terms of completion.
More variations exist in the wild world of art completion, such as aesthetic completion or genetic completion - the former being, “worthy of standing by itself, as an object of aesthetic enjoyment” (Trogdon 255), and the latter tethered closer to the creative process - but I would like to wrap up this post with my own thoughts before I burrow any deeper down into the rabbit hole.
Throughout my research delving into the journals of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, the notes I was making were often relating to my own creative practice and feelings towards completion, and trying to find the right terminology or philosophy that aligned with how I would determine a piece of work to be finished. Here’s the most interesting part though, that even the extensive work of Grafton-Cardwell did not touch upon - what do we even mean by finished or complete? As is discussed in Me, My Music & I, my autoethnographic approach to my research involved a lot of critical reflection, and interrogation of my bias and existing thoughts that had previously gone unquestioned. It was only in the final month of working on this project that being asked the question, ‘what do you mean by finished’, that the blinkers were removed and clarity was brought forth. My contribution to the completion conversation is that since we are always developing as people and with music being an extension of self, as well as being an fluctuating activity itself, then I am of the opinion that it can never be finished and that’s not a bad thing, that is where its beauty resides. Having said that, this is a blog post all about completion so I would be doing myself and my writing an injustice if I did not expand on this a bit further. If we can determine that music can never be finished, then what can we say about a piece of music in relation to completion? The closest I can get to a concept of completion is by observing that a piece of music can be ready when the artist is content and it then becomes a record that is a reflection of the who the artist is and what they are capable of in that particular moment in time. As discussed in Refine & Reflect, for this project, I am framing the container for my music, the ‘whole’, as being a complete collection, and the tunes within, the ‘parts’ that subscend the ‘whole’, as captured musicking. Further to this, as is apparent from my extensive archive of musical works I had previously thought of as finished - and the three parts for each tune in my trilogy of trilogies (origin/experiment/ready) - there can be many versions of the same song, so how can one say that one of them is more complete than the other - they are more akin to a living thing that refuses to be constrained by such terminology lest it stop existing as it is. With all this in mind, I feel that, ultimately, it is the artist who decides when it is ready and from my experience, this is when they are content with letting go other their attachment to the creative process and allow their particular constellation of living frequencies be added to the timeline of their life.