Non-finito

By Farley Sanderford

May 3, 2016

The concept of non-finito in art is an idea that has been circling in my head for a while now. I’ve wanted to write about it, and how it could apply to other areas of life, but I have had a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

Non-finito, essentially means “unfinished,” but there are a couple of ways in which this term is applied to works of art. Some artists have intentionally left works of art unfinished. This can be a bit difficult sometimes, though, because artists don’t always write or speak about their work in a way that is helpful. It can be hard to know how they mean for their work to be viewed or considered. There are also styles of art that are inherently unfinished-looking. Like this:

The way in which the paint is applied to the canvas, the color choices, and the empty space left on the work, although part of the style of Fauvism, create a painting that appears not yet finished.

Another example of a style and intentional way of creating art that could be described as non-finito is the artist Auguste Rodin. He used two kinds of sculpting styles that I would consider unfinished, and here is an example:

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In The Hand of God, the first image, portions of the sculpture are quite smooth and polished, while others show the natural roughness of marble. The “finished” parts of the sculpture seems to jump out from the “unfinished” parts.

Similar to the Fauvist painting referenced above, The Burghers of Calais, the second image, are stylistically unfinished, in that the way Rodin sculpted the work makes it appear unfinished. The surface of the sculpture is highly textured, and edges of the figures have not been smoothed out.

There’s one final kind of non-finito that I want to consider – the unfinished works from the Renaissance masters, specifically Michelangelo Buonarroti.

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This Pietà by Michelangelo was created near the end of his life. Because of this fact, it’s possible that the unfinished nature of the sculpture was due to his death and therefore, his inability to finish the work.

I have been thinking about the different kinds of non-finito, and how they might parallel with the Artist as God, and us, His people, as the works of His hands. There are a few places where the metaphor doesn’t work, but I still think it would be interesting to see where the comparison can go, and what observations I can make about myself, and about God.

Like in the Fauvist and Burghers of Calais examples, sometimes our unfinished nature is purely stylistic. Maybe we’re not so polished or put-together. Maybe our edges are a little rough. Our unfinished parts or aspects of our nature, whether it be physical, emotional, or general demeanor, don’t always fit into neat little boxes. God, our Creator, knows all the details about us, and everything the Lord does is intentional and for our good.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,

   who formed you from the womb:

“I am the Lord, who made all things,

   who alone stretched out the heavens,

   who spread out the earth by myself

Isaiah 44:24

If the God of the universe made us, and He is good and sovereign, then we, His creation, though we are fallen and in need of salvation, are still His good work. Because of sin, we live in a broken world, and we ourselves are imperfect; but we are also redeemed through Christ, and the unfinished things about us will be made whole and complete when we reunite with our Creator.

In the unfinished works of Michelangelo, especially the Pietà Rondanini, most of the piece is left unfinished. It is not completely clear, but it is possible that this was not finished because the artist died and was unable to complete to sculpture. On our own, we could never fully complete the work that God has created us to do. Left to our own devices and our own strength, it is not possible for us to completely follow Him and run the race set before us. Only through God’s redemptive power and the work of the Holy Spirit, can we finish strong and serve God with all our hearts. We certainly won’t be complete until we get to heaven, so we will not totally understand our true fullness on this side of eternity, but there is hope that all the rough edges will be smoothed out and the imperfections will be made pure.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Although it is difficult to live in a world, and in bodies, and in relationships that are imperfect, unfinished, incomplete, we can hold fast to hope that we will be totally and ultimately perfect, finished, complete when we meet our Creator face to face. We who know Christ as our Redeemer, we will never be abandoned in a non-finito state. God’s promises are true because they are based on His character. The greatest Artist of all will not leave His work unfinished, and we can trust Him to make His creation whole and complete.