Why don't we finish things? An artist's view | Robert Davis | TEDxMelbourne

Why don't we finish things? An artist's view | Robert Davis | TEDxMelbourne

I grew up the eldest of four children to Annie and Robert Davis now my mom had the brilliant idea to give her four children the same acronym so was my sister Robyn Lynn my two brothers Russell Lawrence and Ronnie line L and me Robert Lee that's me standing next to my sister hmm it gets better than this let me tell you now both my parents were pretty hard workers um my dad had more jobs than I can recount from being a salesperson to a hotel manager even a community activist just the name of you and as his jobs increased we moved from North Philadelphia to a house in the suburbs to a beautiful house in the country now at first these moves were pretty exciting I mean I got to reinvent myself whichever school I went to from being the geek at one school to being the cool geek at another school but I also developed the idea that I didn't have to finish things because life was always changing change became my friend when I was 14 I asked my parents if I could take up a piano now by then my dad had found his calling and that was to be a minister so he moved us back to North Philadelphia to start a church the Church of brotherly love was located on the ground floor and we lived on the upper two floor so there was no way we can miss a Sunday service well as I am developed into the person that I am it started at that church I remember I was sitting in the pews waiting for my dad's sermon to begin when he went up to the podium and said you know my son Bob has been practicing the organ and he is sounding pretty good I could feel myself shaking I was thinking oh no he's not going to call on me is he and I'm sure if we encourage him he will come down and play something for us well I wish that Pew had swallowed me up I could feel this pressure building all around me but being the respectful oldest son and with Pat's on the back and shouts of amen brother I made my way the long journey up to the front of our small storefront Church I slowly opened the organic cabinet unfolded the sheet music turned the button to on and with fingers pressed on the upper and lower keyboards foot gently pressing the foot pedals played past me not o gentle Savior with the skill of a virtuoso I played better than even I knew I could play and when I finished I gently closed my book shut the organ and with the congregation shouting amen brother amen that boy is going to be a church musician I quietly made my way back to my seat confident in the fact that I would never touch the organ again as long as I live now why was that I think deep inside I knew that being a church musician wasn't in my game plan I didn't finish because I didn't want to follow someone else's dreams now why don't we finish things there are many many reasons fear fear of doing a TED talk fear of embarrassment fear of failure being some of the reasons extenuating family circumstances these are being a few of the reasons why we put our dreams on hold when I was 17 I was diagnosed with scoliosis a condition that left untreated had the possibility of leaving me crippled with pain and bent over by age 30 they told me that if I hadn't got the upper that if I didn't get the operation before I went to college or immediately after they couldn't be concerned about what would happen to me so I had a decision to make now whenever I had to make a decision I would seek refuge on the roof of our two-story building so they are peering into the sky I was searching and as the late-night sounds of car pursuits and neighborhood rumblings vanished I was looking for a tesseract now for those of you unfamiliar with the work of Madeleine L'Engle a tesseract is a rift or rip in the sky that takes us into another dimension I was searching for the adventure I knew I was destined to take I decided to get that operation after my first year back from college but not before I saw my grandmother let me tell you a little bit about her my grandmother was the kind quiet matriarch of our family and greatly loved you went to her house to have some of the best soul food you've ever had to catch up on gossip and to see family stole a little emotion with her my grandmother was celebrating her birthday and I really wanted to do something special to honor her so I did a picture of my granny's favorite comic strip character and that was Mickey Mouse now I was only eight at the time so it's a pretty rough drawing all our family members were gathered in my grandmother's formal living room the only room in the house where all the furniture was still covered in plastic the wrapped sofa cushions would cling to sweaty legs when you rose up and there she sat right in the middle family members presented her with beautifully wrapped presents and I presented her with mine and she loved it she said it's the first picture that I had ever done for her and she would keep it always well at the time I looked at the many gifts that grandma had got and I said grandma if you keep it in a month I'll be happy but as it turned out any time I would go and visit my grandmother bring a friend over she would show them this drawing if a neighbor brought came by or a church member came by just for coffee she would say look what my grandbaby did for me he's going to be a real artist someday now I really got to be embarrassing as I got older so there we were my grandmother my girlfriend at the time and me sitting on my grandmother's plastic couch enjoying a cup of lemonade when she says oh did I show you that drawing that my baby did for me and before I could object she dashed off to bring out what that picture of Mickey Mouse now by then it was well-worn tattered and yellowing at the side so I said granny but grandma why do you always bring this picture out I mean I'm really I can draw much better now I'm getting to be a better artist and she just looked at me and said baby I know you can draw but this is the first picture you did for me and it was at that moment I realized the power of personal art making I had found my Tesla rack knowing who I was helped me through that difficult operation you see during a critical stage in the surgery I went into cardiac arrest I almost died they had to flip me over and pump my heart to get it starting again as a result I had to give up my dream of going back to college I had to have months of recuperation and went through a series of body cast as part of my rehabilitation but I pulled through and as I said the last of those damn body casts I shed the idea of being that respectful older son I shed the idea that I had to live for other people I had found my purpose we don't finish things when we're not passionate or on purpose in my studio I have a number of unfinished work but I don't see these as failed attempts rather these unfinished pieces are part of my learning process it takes courage when we know something is working out to start again try something new what I've learned is that many of my pursuits will be finished and some will not either can be okay as long as I continue to continually and regularly ask myself should I be pursuing this am i doing this for me or for some other purpose I did a painting called looking back looking forward it details my unfinished life it talks about gaps in my art making and how one single moment change my future it was a beautiful sunny day My partner and i were holidaying in the beautiful stunning resort on langkawi malaysia that morning we decided to go into yoga on the far side of the beach on that waveless beach people were in wonderment there were sea shells and starfish and beautiful corals as far as you could see the wave came by so quickly the force of which sent my friend and I into a forest of mangroves clinging to the tangle meant of roots we didn't know what was happening we thought what is this we found ourselves in chess deep murky water struggling to stay afloat and as the second wave hit I thought this is it life is over I held my breath and waited but as quickly as a tide came the tide receded taking away anything that was not chained down as if someone had lifted up a stopper and everything went pulling down we found ourselves bruised dazed but standing on dry land again ever so thankful that the tsunami on that Boxing Day morning hadn't taken away our lives we all have instances references that mark a change in direction and point to a new way of seeing water became my point to a new way of art making my art became personal deep and extremely extremely vulnerable my work started to speak of the pain of breaking up a long-term relationship it spoke of the joy of theme of getting letters from home when I was on many many travels they spoke of new beginnings new love and new situations today my art tells stories this is work called homogeneous speaks of a story of a family their love their adventures and their hopes for the future it's a tribute to my partner's mother's unfinished journeys see she took a travel she I went on a voyage but did not complete it but in that state she was able to write her family a letter and I'll read a part of that letter I hope you will travel the world I have been fortunate to visit so many beautiful places be free spirits fly free make goals and make a difference you see every one of us is an unfinished landscape evolving changing and growing into the wonderful works of art were intended to be non finito is a term found in art where the artist chooses to consciously not finish to work as a tribute to nature's nature's imperfections just as my life is uncompleted and has fragments so we all have uncompleted stuff dreams that make us who we are my challenge for you is to embrace those unfinished bits because no one's perfect and life is full full of unfinished business


  • Black bird says:

    BS. Here's the truth. We get to a point where we love our work to its current extent, maybe even be surprised by how much better the work is than we think we are.. and the fear of ruining it by finishing it deters us from doing so.

    I once talked to a great artist and he asked me if I do doodles. I said I don't. He said that's the problem. If you can only pull something off only in one angle or one particular way you will always be afraid of ruining your work. You need to let go of the mental boundries of perfection and rather see every piece of work as practice and one step on the endless stairway of becoming a great artist.

  • Jonathan L says:

    I still doing know why we don't finish things. Also, I'm not sold its good, even after your touching and vulnerable stories.

  • Jayo Caine says:

    No employer or game dev will accept a half finished song. Sorry, finishing things is an objectively good quality. This is like saying hey you finished in 4th, at least it wasn't 5th, definitely detrimental to personal development.

  • kkendal bruce says:

    I find it suspicious that he tears up about his grandmother the same time he did when he gave this exact same speech.

  • kamen says:

    If youโ€™re looking for advice on how to finish your projects, you can go ahead and skip this video.

  • 1chipchap says:

    I never finish things or goals. My interests keep changing and it's beyond depressing, I feel like giving up because I feel no purpose to life if I lose interest so quickly in every single
    Thing . I'm creative but my styles and interest changes so much . I feel psychotic and I don't know what to do .

  • This Is Pro-Aging says:


  • IRIA says:

    This guy makes me uneasy

  • xxOwLEyeSxx says:

    What a beautiful message!

  • Astral Flux says:

    ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I needed this … Iโ€™m always giving myself such a hard time for not finishing my art v:/

  • JenkinTown Posse says:

    I didn't finish fapping.

  • Kodex I says:

    Great video. I've taken up piano, swimming, football, etc… I've only ever really been good at drawing, which I still enjoy occasionally. I've always left things because I've become bored of them, more interested in having more free time to procrastinate… I guess it takes time to find to solidify yourself into your true passion, and experience.

  • Chris Fox says:

    We are all works in progress regardless of temporary setbacks โ€œ keep breathing while continuing to put one step in front of the other, thatโ€™s the work, having a goal and a creed is useful but those can change along the way.

  • Rafael N. says:

    You will not finish because you know were you are going.
    That certainty makes it boring,
    Be more impulsive and plan less

  • prdi ludi says:

    anyone annoyed with his sloppy mouth sounds?

  • Xia Zhong says:

    I agree…We finish when we are passionate and on purpose with that particular train of thought…Sometimes we must challenge ourselves to free fears that encumber our Truth from coming out…Thank you for sharing your Truth and enlightening us to the organic process of life <3

  • Kitty Gaming says:

    this is really wonderful and inspiring I erase one of my unfinished artwork and drew a new one with completely different style and finished it recently. Thanks Robert, greetings from Malaysia.

  • mrericmendez says:

    Unpopular opinion: Theres like no energy in this dude's voice.

  • fella says:

    gazes into distance laughs "anyway". started to get a bit annoying tbh

  • Galvonetta says:

    Using headphones. It's VERY hard to focus beyond those mouth sounds :/

  • C Jay Goh says:

    In Singapore, MOST people (if not EVERYONE) will have to leave their Dream/s in Cold Store.

  • msGvious says:

    Barbara Sher wrote "Refuse to Choose" for people with 'too many interests to pick just one'. If you are super curious and struggle to finish projects, I encourage you to check it out!

  • msGvious says:

    Special beyond words, in all the ways. Thank you RLD xxxxxxxx

  • Mike M says:

    I never finish things. Including this video, but I liked . But you need a glass of water when you speech

  • Derek Hughes says:

    I never finish anyth

  • Daniel Chapman says:

    Good talk. Those mouth sounds are giving me asmr tho lol

  • wewe wewe says:

    i didn't finish the video

  • Makitoe.u.77 says:

    Hello mr.davis! I was in your class last year! Your talks are so inspiring, please continue inspiring people and being amazing!๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’ฆ

  • Carlitox b says:

    I don't finish what I

  • Lucky Bunny says:

    I used to think that we don't finish things because we got what we need and often see the final work in our mind. I have since learned that we don't finish things because we lack discipline, artists are especially susceptible.

  • Joey Kher says:

    Thank you..very inspiring.

  • Raiyan Bhuiyan says:

    This is exactly what I needed to get me to finish nuke school

  • Evening Dim says:

    I have a problem with finishing things. So many projects. I got maybe 30 drafts on wordpress, several songs half-written/translated, almost 2 dozen years of art left unfinished. A lot of times I find myself putting effort into the things impossible or difficult for me to do instead of finishing easy tasks that arr nearly done. I just posted a picture of Green Diamond on my deviantart, a simple picture of pen & colored pencils; and I consider that a great accomplishment, considering my record.

  • Bernadette warburton says:

    I just heard this talk for the first time and it resonated profoundly with me. I am 46 years old and all my life I have struggled with not finishing anything, even though I enjoyed exploring my interests. I can remember exactly when this began. I feel that at my time of life I should know what my passion is and follow it, but I don't. Your talk helped me to see that as long as I keep trying and exploring my time will not have been wasted. I want to thank you so much for your words. I was beginning to lose the courage to continue my pursuit of my passion. This has meant a great deal to me.

  • OmarsDad says:

    I have a serious problem with not finishing my art

  • gteamer1 says:

    Thank you.

  • Philippe Guichard says:

    Very inspiring talk, Robert! Now I don't have to feel guilty with some unfinished projects! Thanks for sharing your personal story too, very compelling.

  • Purple Lotus Jewelry says:

    Such a brilliant talk about, Why we don't finish things. Living a creative life is essential. This is a very inspiring talk. I also loved how you show the influence of one person, in your case your grandmother can make the biggest difference in ones life. The way we encourage children and see them is so important. Thank you for sharing this beautiful work.

  • Ning Li says:

    Hi Robert, so happy to see you and watch your talk. A nice way to start Sunday. Great presentation and touching, inspring stories. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • ccabell4 says:

    Thank you for reaching out and letting me know you were on here! Awesome presentation and lovely painting too. Kids were watching with me and they remember meeting you so many years ago. Big hugs ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Canvas Barn Marine Trimming says:

    now… that was great. I sent that to our kids, school leavers…. and myself. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Kimbra Power says:

    Yeah, so so happy to see you doing your thing Robert. I just wanted to give you a big hug and hear your lovely loud laugh. Hugs from Shanghai. x

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