AskDefine | Define unfinished

Dictionary Definition

unfinished adj
1 not brought to the desired final state [ant: finished]
2 not brought to an end or conclusion; "unfinished business"; "the building is still unfinished" [ant: finished]
3 lacking a surface finish such as paint; "bare wood"; "unfinished furniture" [syn: bare]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. not finished, not completed



not finished

Extensive Definition

An unfinished work is a creative work that has not been finished. Its creator might have chosen never to finish it, or have been prevented by circumstances outside of his or her control (including death). Such pieces are often the subject of speculation as to what the finished piece would have been like; sometimes they are finished by others and released posthumously. Unfinished works have had profound influences on their genres and have inspired others in their own projects. The term can also refer to ongoing work which could eventually be finished, and is distinguishable from "incomplete work", which can be a work that was finished but is no longer in its complete form.
There are many reasons for work not being completed. Works are usually stopped when their creator dies, although some, aware of their failing health, make sure that they set up the project for completion. If the work involves other people, such as a cast of actors or the subject of a portrait, it may be halted because of their unavailability. Projects that are too grandiose might never have been finished, while others should be feasible but their creator's continual unhappiness with them leads to abandonment.
Unfinished works by popular authors and artists may still be made public, sometimes in the state they were in when work was halted. Alternatively, another artist may finish the piece. In some fields work may appear unfinished but are actually finished, such as Donatello's "non finito" technique in sculpture.



Many acclaimed authors have left work incomplete. Some such pieces have been published posthumously, either in their incomplete state or after being finished by somebody else.
It is the job of literary executors to take charge of the work of a writer after their death. They must often decide what to do with incomplete work, using their own judgement if not given explicit instructions. In some cases this can lead to something happening to the work that was not originally intended, such as the release of Franz Kafka's unfinished writings by Max Brod when Kafka had wished for it to be destroyed. These works have become iconic in Western literature. The posthumous publication of some of Ernest Hemingway's unfinished novels was met with controversy. Several books were published, but it has been suggested that it is not within the jurisdiction of Hemingway's relatives or publishers to determine whether these works should be made available to the public. For example, scholars often disapprovingly note that the version of The Garden of Eden published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1986, though not a revision of Hemingway's original words, nonetheless omits two-thirds of the original manuscript.
Novels can remain unfinished because the author continually rewrites the story. When enough material exists, someone else can compile and combine the work, creating a finished story out upon several different drafts. Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger was written in three different versions over a period of 20 years, none of which were complete. Twain biographer and literary executor Albert Bigelow Paine combined the stories and published his version six years after Twain's death. Similarly, J. R. R. Tolkien continuously rewrote The Silmarillion throughout his lifetime; a definitive version was still uncompiled at the time of his death, with some sections very fragmented. His son, Christopher Tolkien, invited fantasy fiction writer Guy Gavriel Kay to reconstruct some parts of the book, and they eventually published a final version in 1977. In 1980, Christopher Tolkien published another posthumous collection of his father's unfinished work, appropriately entitled Unfinished Tales. Between 1982 and 1996, he published twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth, a substantial portion of which is unfinished and incomplete drafts. In 2007, Christopher Tolkien published another novel from his father entitled The Children of Húrin. Like The Silmarillion, Christopher assembled the novel from various incomplete drafts.
The size of a project can be such that a piece of literature is never finished. Geoffrey Chaucer never completed The Canterbury Tales to the extensive length that he originally intended. Chaucer had, however, already written much of the work at the time of his death, and the Canterbury Tales are considered to be a seminal work despite the unfinished status. English poet Edmund Spenser originally intended The Faerie Queene to consist of 12 books; even at its unfinished state – six books were published before Spenser's death – it is the longest epic poem in the English language. Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist, completed nearly 100 pieces for his novel sequence La Comédie humaine, but a planned 48 more were never finished. Notes and plot outlines left behind by an author may allow a successor to complete a novel or series of novels. Frank Herbert left behind extensive notes related to his Dune universe, which led to son Brian Herbert and science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson completing several prequels to the popular series. Mervyn Peake, author of the Gormenghast novels, meant to write a complete biography of the main character, Titus, but died after only completing three books in the series.
Some works are presented as separate sections, each written at different times. This can lead to the situation where a piece can appear complete while the author actually intended for it to continue, or where other authors try to fake their own writing as part of the work. The first four cantos of Lord Byron's narrative poem Don Juan were written in 1818 and 1819, with a further 12 completed and published before his death in 1824. Numerous "continuations" of the story had been published by various publishing houses even between issues of the story, along with several fake conclusions. Byron had intended to continue the story, as evidenced by the find of the 17th canto after his death, but it is not clear how long the poem would continue or how it would conclude. It is still regarded as one of his greatest achievements. Charles Dickens was writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood in monthly installments when he died, completing just six of the twelve intended. The story surrounded the murder of the titular Edwin Drood; because the story was never finished the murderer was never revealed. The book was still made into a film and a musical, with the latter having the unusual concept of the audience voting for who they think is the murderer.

Science, theology and philosophy

Religious works have also been left incomplete, leading to debates about the possible missing content. The Persian Bayán, a scripture from Bábism, was left unfinished when the Báb died. There have been some claims that the text has been completed by other people, though the Báb stated that it would be finished by he whom God shall make manifest. St. Thomas Aquinas abandoned his great work, the Summa Theologiae in 1273, citing a mystical experience during mass. Its arguments for the existence of God continue to exert influence in Christian theology more than 700 years later.
The most influential document in computer science was John von Neumann's First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC, a 101-page manuscript dating from 1946. Littered with ellipticals and spaces for the eventual addition of further material, von Neumann never completed it, as by that time its distribution had already influenced an explosion in postwar computer development. Its elaboration of the stored program concept and formalisation of the logical design of computer architecture – ideas not all of which were original to von Neumann, but which he first expressed in the mathematical language he favoured – endure in the architectures of modern computer systems.
The first genuine historigraphical work, the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides was undergoing a major revision by the author at the time of his death, so different sections of it reflect a starkly contrasting general outlook on Persian influence in the events depicted.

Drawings, paintings and sculptures

Artists leave behind incomplete work for a variety of reasons. A piece may not be completed if the subject becomes unavailable, such as in the changing of a landscape or the death of a person being painted. Elizabeth Shoumatoff's Unfinished Portrait of 32nd U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt was started around noon on 12 April 1945 but left unfinished when Roosevelt died later that day. In other instances, outside circumstances can prevent the execution of an otherwise "finished" artwork: Leonardo da Vinci developed sketches and models for the 24 foot-tall "Gran Cavallo" horse statue but the bronze to cast the sculpture was diverted to make cannons. Five hundred years later, two full-size sculptures were completed based on Leonardo's work.
Depending on the medium involved, it can be difficult for another artist to complete an unfinished artwork without damaging it. Some artists did complete the paintings of their mentors, such as Giulio Romano is believed to have done on Raphael's Transfiguration, and Titian on Giorgione's Sleeping Venus. Instead of completing another artist's masterpiece, particularly when many years have passed, unfinished works frequently inspire others to create their own version. Michelangelo left several unfinished sculptures and paintings, with sketches and partially-completed paintings inspiring others. If the work is to be done on commission but is not finished it is commonly passed on to another artist. Leonardo da Vinci's work on the Adoration of the Magi for the monastery of San Donato was halted when he left Florence for Milan. Still requiring an altarpiece, the monks employed Filippino Lippi to create one. Both paintings now hang in the Uffizi gallery.
Paintings are usually sketched on the canvas before work begins, and sculptures are frequently planned using a maquette. These works-in-progress can be as (or even more) sought-after as completed works by highly-regarded artists because they help reveal the process of creating a work of art. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a sculptor from the Baroque period, made his bozzeti (an Italian term for the prototype sculpture) from wax or baked terracotta to show those that had commissioned him how the final piece was intended to look. Eleven of these bozzeti were displayed in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004. Some museums specialise in collections of maquettes, such as the Museo dei Bozzetti in Pietrasanta, Italy.
During the Renaissance, Donatello made sculptures that appeared unfinished by only sculpting part of the block, leaving the figure appearing to be stuck within the material. He called this technique "non finito", and it has been used by several artists since then.
In the age of mass media, incomplete work can reach an audience due to sheer demand for material by the artist. Tintin and Alph-Art, the 24th comic in Hergé's popular The Adventures of Tintin series, was unfinished at his death. Though he had illustrated much of the book, several sketched panels remained in the final scenes. The book was still published and the story can be followed despite the incomplete artwork.

Architecture, construction and engineering

See also: Unfinished building.
Many construction or engineering projects have remained unfinished at various stages of development. The work may be finished as a blueprint or whiteprint and never be realised, or be abandoned during construction.
There are numerous unfinished buildings that remain partially-constructed in countries around the world, some of which can be used in their incomplete state but with others remaining as a mere shell. An example of the latter is the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea. If finished it would become the tallest hotel in the world and the seventh largest building but is uninhabitable and will not be completed due to the cost and the poor structural integrity. Some projects are intentionally left with an unfinished appearance, particularly the follies of the late 16th to 18th century.
There are many reasons for construction work being halted. Amongst others, they include a changing financial climate, unforeseen structural weaknesses, or a dramatic shift in the politics of a country. Work on the Palace of Soviets, a project to construct the world's largest building in Moscow, was halted when the city was attacked during World War II.
Some buildings are in a cycle of near-perpetual construction, with work lasting for decades or even centuries. Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família in Barcelona has been under construction for around 120 years, having started in the 1880s. Work was delayed by the Spanish Civil War, during which the original models and parts of the building itself were destroyed. Today, even with portions of the basilica incomplete, it is still the most popular tourist destination in Barcelona with 1.5 million visitors every year. Gaudí spent 40 years of his life overseeing the project and is buried in the crypt. Germany's Cologne Cathedral took even longer to complete; construction started in 1248 and finished in 1880, a total of 632 years.
It is not only buildings that have failed during the construction phase. In the 1920s, the White Star Line hired the shipbuilders Harland and Wolff to build the first 1000-foot-long ocean liner, with the planned name of Oceanic. However, a dispute between the companies and eventually the Great Depression halted the construction, and eventually the portion of the keel already constructed was broken up and used in building the smaller but similar ship, the MV Britannic. In the 1970s the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was out of use for five years after its construction when the connecting roads were not completed. In the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein commissioned the Babylon project. The supergun design by Gerald Bull was never fully constructed after Bull's assassination in March 1990.
Many projects do not get to the construction phase, halted during or after planning. Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned several designs for Castle Falkenstein, with the fourth plan being vastly different from that of the first. The first two designs were turned down, one because of costs and one because the design displeased Ludwig, and the third designer withdrew from the project. The fourth and final plan was completed and some infrastructure was prepared for the site but Ludwig died before construction work began. The Palace of Whitehall, at the time the largest palace in Europe, was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1698. Sir Christopher Wren, most famous for his role in rebuilding several churches after the Great Fire of London in 1666, sketched a proposed replacement for part of the palace but financial constraints prevented construction.
Computer technology has allowed for 3D representations of projects to be shown before they are built. In some cases the construction is never started and the computer model is the nearest that anyone will ever get to seeing the finished piece. For example, in 1999 Kent Larson's exhibition "Unbuilt Ruins: Digital Interpretations of Eight Projects by Louis I. Kahn" showed computer images of designs completed by noted architect Louis Kahn but never built. Computer simulations can also be used to create prototypes of engineering projects and test them before they are actually made; this has allowed the design process to be more successful and efficient.
Even without being constructed, many architectural designs and ideas have had a lasting influence. The Russian constructivism movement started in 1913 and was taught in the Bauhaus and other architecture schools, leading to numerous architects integrating it into their style.


Classical music

See also: Unfinished symphony.
In the days of classical music all compositions were sketched on manuscripts – the technology to record music did not exist. Often these manuscripts are roughly sketched, with drafting work scribbled over the top of the music, and have been found in unordered piles. Many unfinished symphonies have been pieced together from these original manuscripts by other composers, after the original author's death, with some remaining incomplete until many decades later. One of the most famous examples of unfinished musical compositions is Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor, or as it is more commonly known, The Unfinished Symphony. Another famous unfinished classical piece is Mozart's Requiem, famous in part by the numerous myths and legends that surround its creation and in part by Mozart's prestige. Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10 was incomplete with only drafts, sketches, and two mostly orchestrated movements existing at the composer's death. Several individuals have "completed" it with varying degrees of success, the most notable of these being Deryck Cooke's "performing version of the draft."
Some compositions are finished "in the style of" the original composer, with someone who is highly familiar with their work adopting their writing style and continuing the musical tone. Johann Sebastian Bach's The Art of Fugue, which was broken off abruptly during Contrapunctus XIV by the death of the composer, was first published in the mid 18th century. Many reconstructions have been written, but in 1991 Zoltán Göncz used the form of a permutation fugue to make a strong argument as to the structure of the Fugue to come. Edward Elgar was composing a Symphony No. 3 at the time of his death and left 130 pages of sketches. These sketches were put into a reasonable order, orchestrated in the style of Elgar, and elaborated by Anthony Payne. Payne's reconstruction has been played numerous times to great acclaim.
In May 2000 composer Colin Matthews premiered his "completion" of Gustav Holst's The Planets, whereby he composed a piece for the ninth planet Pluto, giving it the name "Pluto, The Renewer". When Holst had written the original piece Pluto had not been discovered, and this addition therefore updated the suite and completed the eight movements that represented the planets of the solar system (Earth was never included) some 80 years after it was originally performed. Ironically in August 2006 Pluto was officially demoted to a dwarf planet, thus meaning that Holst's original work now more accurately represented the solar system.
Some extremely famous 20th century operas have been left incomplete at their composers' deaths. Giacomo Puccini left the finale of Turandot unfinished and the missing music had to be provided by Franco Alfano for the premiere in 1926. Recently, Luciano Berio composed an alternative ending. Alban Berg had only finished the first two acts of his opera Lulu at the time of his death in 1935. Due to objections from his widow it was not until 1979 that a full version was performed, with music for the final act devised by Friedrich Cerha using Berg's sketches.

Modern recordings

Since recording equipment has been an integral part of writing music it has been possible to use the original master tapes and demos to construct a song from the parts that had already been completed. Many demos are released officially if the artist has been unable (or unwilling) to complete it, or made available as a bootleg recording. The continued popularity of The Beatles led to "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" being released in the mid 1990s after the band members pieced together incomplete recordings by the deceased John Lennon. Both songs reached the top five in the British singles chart.
One of rock music's most famous unfinished albums is the 1967 Beach Boys album, Smile. Recorded in 1966 and 1967, Smile was to be a very ambitious followup to the acclaimed Pet Sounds album, but due to Brian Wilson's deteriorating mental health and increased friction among band members, The Beach Boys abandoned the project after completing numerous recordings slated for the project. In 2004, Brian Wilson and writing partner Van Dyke went into the studio, and newly recorded the material and released it as a completed solo album.
Another famous unfinished rock album is Jimi Hendrix's First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Due to his untimely death at the age of 27, Hendrix was unable to complete the album. It has been issued in various posthumous forms in the ensuing years.
Several artists have found that some of their studio work has been leaked onto the Internet before their album has been completed. System of a Down's 2002 follow-up to Toxicity, untitled at the time, was leaked onto the Internet as MP3 files. When the album was released under the title Steal This Album! the songs were significantly different from the work-in-progress, with different titles, lyrics and even melodies. There were some reports that the changes were a direct result of negative feedback about the leaked material.
Some artists will try to ensure that their work is completed (as much as possible) before their health prevents them from continuing. Johnny Cash, aware of his failing health, made sure that he recorded the vocals for 60 more songs, with the music being completed after his death. These songs were compiled by producer Rick Rubin and released as American V: A Hundred Highways and American VI. However, not all artists get the chance to complete their work before their death, and the recordings that are made public may be somewhat different from what had originally been intended. From a Basement on the Hill by Elliott Smith was released posthumously in 2004 with comments from the initial album producer saying that "[t]he record he would have delivered would [have] had more songs, would have had different mixes and [been] a little more in your face". The album was still well-received by critics.
Richard Carpenter released several tracks decades after his sister Karen died in 1983, leaving a multitude of unfinished work. One track, released on the "Interpretations" album in the mid-nineties, included Karen's lead vocal for the song "Trying To Get The Feeling Again" which had previously been recorded and released by Barry Manilow. The lead had been lost for years on a mislabelled tape. Strings, piano, and backup singers were added to the sound of Karen's lead vocal, while Richard left the sound of her turning the lead sheet over in the finished product. Another track was Karen's cover "The Rainbow Connection", which had been written by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams for Jim Henson to sing as Kermit The Frog in The Muppet Movie (1979). Recording it only a year later, Richard claims that Karen just didn't like the song and that was why it was left off of their 1981 album, Made In America. A toy piano, choir, and strings were added against Karen's vocals. The song was released in 2001 on the album "As Time Goes By".


Films may not be completed for several reasons, with some being shelved during different stages of the production. Arrive Alive was scrapped after a week of filming when the comedy was not living up to the screenplay. Shelving a film without it ever being released can be very expensive for the studios, with Arrive Alive costing $7 million.
With so many people involved in filmmaking it is very possible for a film to remain incomplete because of an injury or death. While a member of the crew (even a producer or director) can often be replaced, it is much more difficult to change to a different actor if many of the scenes have already been filmed. For example, Dark Blood was cancelled halfway through filming due to the death of its star River Phoenix. Some films have been completed despite such problems. A famous example is Bruce Lee's Game of Death, who died during the filming and the rest of the filming was finished by Tai Chung Kim, a Lee lookalike and Yuen Biao, a then stunt actor and later becomes a TV/movie actor. His son, Brandon Lee also suffered from the same fate: he died after filming most of The Crow, but the remaining scenes were played by stunt double Chad Stahelski with Lee's face digitally composited onto the double.
Continued delays can prevent a film from ever being completed. Something's Got to Give was a 1962 film with a difficult production history, which included the firing of leading lady Marilyn Monroe. She was later rehired but died before filming started; without the delay the film might have been completed.
Orson Welles is one director famed for his unfinished projects. Most famously he tried to film a version of Don Quixote for 25 years, but the death of two actors eventually made him give up his pursuits. Citizen Kane remains the only film that was released as Welles intended, with other films remaining incomplete or being changed by the studios. His death on 10 October 1985 came while he was working on The Other Side of the Wind and The Dreamers, the former being nearly completed.
It is not only live-action films that can be problematic. The Thief and the Cobbler was a twenty-six-year animated film project by Richard Williams which was taken away from him and completed by Fred Calvert. The workprint of the original film became available as a bootleg. The 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was not viewed by the studio as enough of a commercial success to warrant the funding of a sequel, thus not completing the story from the original trilogy of books.


seealso List of cancelled video games Computer software, particularly games, are sometimes cancelled quite far into their development. Occasionally they are demonstrated to the press so that previews can be written but are never completed or published. Amen: The Awakening had an extensive preview written in the magazine PC Paradox in 1999, including numerous screenshots, which generated a lot of interest in the project. However, it was cancelled the following year. Due to continued interest in a game, some are eventually made available in their unfinished state. Combat 2, the sequel to the 1977 Atari VCS-bundled game Combat, was never completed but, many years later at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo, 200 copies of the unfinished game were sold after a company created a box and manual.
Software undergoes a testing phase that helps to eliminate problems before it is released; however, beta testing is a form of testing where the software is open to the public (usually limited to a set number of people or organisations) but is still essentially unfinished. This is often an important part of the development of a software package.
If a piece of software is becoming overly delayed the developer may just release the programme despite the presence of a few bugs. The Internet has allowed patches to be deployed that fix these bugs, but before such technology was available the problems could not be fixed after the game was published. Even with this, a game with too many bugs when it is made public will receive very poor reviews that will undoubtedly affect sales. For example, 2002's Destroyer Command received some very positive reviews about many aspects of the game but was criticised for the number of glitches it contained that, given a lengthier software testing phase, should have been fixed. Some developers choose to disable certain features in order to release the game on time, especially if a project has seen an amount of feature creep. One such title was Cinemaware's Defender of the Crown, which was released before all the features were completed when the company was faced with a strict deadline and the loss of two programmers.

Unfinished work and the law

Unfinished work is often covered by the copyright laws of the country of origin. The United States have taken the step of creating a law which specifically mentions ongoing work, whereby work which is in progress but will in the future be completed can be covered by copyright. On 27 April 2005 the "Artist's Rights and Theft Prevention Act", a subpart of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, was signed into U.S. law. This act allows for organisations or individuals to apply for copyright protection on unfinished commercial products, such as software, films, and other visual or audible media. For example, a photographer can preregister a photograph by giving a written description of what the final piece (or collection thereof) will look like before the work is finished.
In copyright law, an artistic creation that includes major, basic copyrighted aspects of an original, previously created first work is known as a 'derivative work'. This holds for all kinds of work, including those that have never officially been published. The rights of the first work's originator must be granted to the secondary work for it to be rightfully called a 'derivative work'. If no copyright permission is granted from the originator, it is instead called a 'copy'. Upon completion of the new piece both parties hold a joint copyright status, with both having to agree to any publications. When the copyright has lapsed for the original work the second artist fully owns the copyright for their work, but cannot stop distribution of the original piece or another artist from completing the work in their own way. However, such copyrights can only be granted if the work shows significant new creative content.

See also


Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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