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Stuart Davis: Study for “Unfinished Business” (1962)

" … one stumbles back out of what one stumbles into …"

The end of a season invites in the auditors to assess progress made. Nobody wants a disappointing auditor's report, but some seasons, conditions seem to conspire against success, against progress itself. For me, this result typically happens when I've managed to accumulate more obligations than I can successfully juggle. It never takes much, more like it tends to take no more than an ungainly mix of even small stuff. A single procrastinating act might set off a cascade of small avoidances which quickly accumulate into an overwhelming backlog, one which appears beyond anyone's means to dent, let alone to clear. This accumulation becomes my burden, invisible, perhaps, to everyone else, but front row center prominent for me. It weighs extremely heavily upon me, encumbering everything I attempt, dissuading me from even trying to clear the scales.

The Muse notices but wisely mostly declines to mention.
Am I merely slacking, taking a once well-deserved rest but overdoing it a bit? No, I am not in those times slacking or resting, I am working harder than I've ever worked before, working harder juggling the UnfinishedBusiness backlog, trying to find a handle, failing to finish much. I wake with great resolve but soon stumble upon another terminal complication, a feature requiring additional contemplation, a stall. I fall into space from which I cannot quite extricate myself. I am for all intents stuck, but frantically. I might appear to be doing nothing but I am struggling, silently screaming, anxiously scheming, trying everything in my reach to breach this barrier. I become a professional UnfinishedBusinessman, damned before he's really begun.

I know, if not for a fact then at least through my experience, that UnfinishedBusiness often more or less untangles itself. A fresh perspective, a moment of inspired action, and the knot seems to untie itself, almost always unaccompanied by any coherent strategy for accomplishing anything. It's almost fiddling that gets it started, often simply frivolous play. A casual aside, perhaps done in distraction, and that action which hardly registered as an act gets the long idle ball rolling again. I cannot seem to invoke such acts. They seem to need to come unbidden, a definite complication when my entire consciousness seems focused upon figuring out how to get something started. The truth might reveal that my focus, my insistence upon figuring out the problem and solving it, might just be the source of the UnfinishedBusiness backlog. I insist upon figuring out something invulnerable to ever getting figured out. I fritter away my life seeking unnecessary preconditions.

My UnfinishedBusiness serves as an unsettling self portrait, for I must certainly have been the artist as well as the subject of the finished work. How strange it feels to speak of my UnfinishedBusiness as a finished work, but it's just as present as any painting hanging on any living room wall. It's a post-modernist work, unsettling in its implications, haunting. It represents an accumulation of my very personal deepest and darkest secrets, and it reminds its subject that his defenses might be more transparent than he might have imagined. It screams that a man, any man, might be better known by his UnfinishedBusiness than by the sum total of even his loftiest accomplishments, and that there will very likely be no figuring out a resolution, for resolution must emerge just as invisibly as did the UnfinishedBusiness. It arrived not by effort, not by plan, but as unintended consequences of something actually accomplished. That backlog might one day disappear, but probably only as a result of unintended actions, not fueled by guilty contemplations but by accidental acts. I suspect that one stumbles back out of what ever one stumbles into or they never stumble back out again.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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