Growth in the Spirit: Unfinished

April 25, 2021

Have you ever seen DaVinci’s work The Adoration of the Magi San Donato in Scopeto?

The most fascinating thing about this artwork to me is that it is unfinished. Leonardo DaVinci had thirty months to complete this altarpiece for the Augustinian friars, but before he could complete it, he got interrupted by another assignment in Milan. He never returned to finish it. The Augustinian friars waited as long as they could, but finally gave up and commissioned a new work. They still displayed DaVinci’s unfinished work, however, and it remains on display to this day – unfinished. 

There is something truly beautiful about an unfinished work of art. I actually find myself drawn more often to these works in progress. There is something so compelling about entering an artist’s creative process as they contemplate what story they want to tell in the end. I love to see the artist working the lines, moving slowly around the canvas in nonlinear movements. If you have ever watched a painter create, you’ll notice that they never quite leave an initial stroke alone. They touch it up. They give it depth. They change it’s tone. Sometimes they may even blur it out and paint something totally new over it. As you watch, you just know that somewhere under every stroke lay many that were made before. An artist is often revising, touching up, moving pieces around until the very last moment when they share their creation with others. In fact, I posit that an artist is always considering a recreation of their art even after the paint has dried. It’s like the art is an extension of them that grows and moves as they do. 

To me, at least, it is the process that matters most to the significance of a work of art. The months of toil and sweat and paint droplets that have formed each and every creation. The whole story lies in layers upon layers of paint and turpentine. It is not often you get to see a work so clearly forever stuck “in progress” like DaVinci’s work. It’s not often you get to witness the middle of the story… at least not on a canvas. 

We can, however, be witnesses of works in progress every day if we are looking for them. There is one, in fact, that stares back at us in the mirror every time we rise out of bed and wash our face and examine the lines that life has left. We, individually and collectively, are the Spirit, the Divine artist’s, work in progress. Everyday we live and move and breathe and interact with others, the Artist is shaping and sculpting us. 

Staring at DaVinci’s work, one can clearly see his initial focus – Mary and Jesus and the Magi are beautifully constructed center stage. Their colors are rich and complete. Around them, however, the rest of the images are vague sketches with some incomplete color and dimension. These figures have room left for added depth and color. They have room to be recreated. They have so much possibility. It is in their unfinished state that they have the most potential for great beauty. 

I often wish to see the final product of my life. I want to look in the mirror and see a person who knows how to be humble, patient, and kind. I want to look at my eyes and see the wisdom God has planted there. I want to open my mouth and have the most perfect things come out. I want to see my hands resting on a keyboard having just written the most beautiful words capable of changing the world. 

Instead, I often see staring back at me a person that struggles with all of these things. I forget how to be patient. I get too busy to be kind. I struggle to find the answers I seek, and my hands are often poised above the keys failing to find any words at all. I’m striving to be the finished work of art hanging in a gallery admired by thousands, but I find instead that I am still the canvas sitting on the easel in a messy artist’s room. 

DaVinci’s work hanging forever stuck in progress gives me hope. It reminds me that works in progress are beautiful and captivating. It shows me that one of the most beautiful gifts the Spirit has ever offered me is a place of honor in their messy Artist’s room. Another beautiful gift is that I know you are right there beside me, beautifully unfinished too.



Going Deeper: 

Photo by Nietjuh on

Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last fifteen years and counting. She is also a freelance writer and speaker. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.

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