Artists are often cautioned not to overwork their pieces, especially when the medium is drawing or painting. This advice is meant to prevent work that is too fussy or refined, or otherwise lacking energy. But many artists place importance on fine-tuning their work, and on paying close attention to detail. The art-world advice against overworking may not apply to everyone’s approach. Today we’ll take a closer look at how this advice can sometimes get in the way of creating your best work.
Often instructors and other artists will tell someone, “don’t touch it, it’s done.” In other words, “don’t overwork it.” This is usually said with all good intentions, but it takes away the artist’s decision about whether to keep going. If we don’t test the boundaries of what is done, we don’t discover new territory or learn to control the medium.
There are art media that need to be used in a deliberate, direct way, start to finish, with no reworking. Or you may simply want your work to be very gestural or fresh, in which case you do need to be concerned about an overworked surface. But overworking often hovers as a caution even with media that can easily be reworked and changed as part of the process.
Whether avoidance of overworking applies to you or not depends not only on your medium and style but your personality as well. It may suit you work patiently on a detailed or subtle painting for a long time as you refine and edit. This doesn’t mean you’re too perfectionistic or picky, it’s simply your own approach.
Overworking is one more art term that is used frequently without much explanation—it’s based on assumptions that may or may not be true for your own preferences and way of working. I hope that today we’ve gotten you to question whether this term means anything at all to you, and if it does, how you would define it in your own way.
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