11 Famous Works of Art That Were Never Actually Completed

Artists and writers can't always bring their works to grandiose completion. Sometimes they plan too big. Sometimes life just gets in the way. But just because creators' plans fall short doesn't mean that audiences mind—or even notice. Here are the stories behind 11 classics that left us hanging. 

1. Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) by Franz Schubert (1822)

Schubert probably died of syphilis, and was nicknamed “Little Mushroom.” But don’t hold those things against him. His music has proved tuneful and long-lasting, with one of his most enduring works being this unfinished symphony. In truth, as critic Brian Newbould said, it’s more of a "finished half-symphony"—it consists of two complete, fully orchestrated movements. Most classical symphonies have four. No one quite knows why Schubert stopped working on the piece, and a friend of his kept it secret until nearly 40 years after the composer’s death.

2. The Thief and the Cobbler by Richard Williams (1992)

British animation genius Williams is best-known these days for his contributions to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But he also worked for an astonishing three decades on this animated adaptation of Arabian Nights legends. It turned heads in the animation community (some of its plot points and character designs magically popped up in Disney’s Aladdin) but Williams ultimately lost control of the film to his financiers—with about 15 minutes of animation left to complete. It was reworked, re-animated and entirely botched in a theatrical release. Fans have responded in recent years with a “re-cobbled” version, based on Williams’s original intentions.

3. Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington (1796)

This iconic, square-jawed image is the basis for Washington's portrait on the dollar bill and innumerable reproductions. Our image of the man who could not tell a lie comes largely from this single painting, nicknamed The Athenaeum. But political portraitist Stuart never finished his image of the nation's first president. Instead, he kept the canvas—the head and shoulders are finished, but not much else—and used it as a source to paint more than 100 duplicates, which he sold for tidy sums. (The original was no picnic to paint, either—Washington’s new pair of false teeth made his mouth all bulgy.) 

4. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (1977)

After the publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1954 and 1955, fantasy fans waited breathlessly for the next big book from Anglo-Saxon-scholar-turned-fantasy-author J.R.R. Tolkien. While he turned out a few short pieces, it wasn’t until after his 1973 death that The Silmarillion finally emerged. The book had started as far back as 1914, and Tolkien kept whittling away at it into the ’70s. His son, Christopher, finally put his father’s papers in order, and the collection of legends about Middle Earth raced to the top of the bestseller list.

5., 6., and 7. The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927) by Franz Kafka

In these three books, Bohemian Franz Kafka (he was actually born in the country of Bohemia) attempted to stretch his short story genius into book-length form. He never quite made it, abandoning his three books in various states of disarray (“The Castle” can’t even finish its last sentence). Kafka died in 1924, at the age of 40. In his will, he instructed his friend Max Brod to destroy all of his unpublished work. Brod promptly published it all instead, cementing Kafka’s literary reputation in the process.

8. Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)

Mythology is thick around Mozart’s last composition, which was commissioned anonymously and obsessed the composer on his deathbed. What we know for sure is that Mozart completed only the first two movements. He sketched out the next several parts, but expired before finishing the piece. Mozart’s widow, Constanze, then drafted in one of the composer's students, Franz Xaver Süssmayer, to ghost-write the last couple of sections. However the piece came together, it’s regarded as an imposing classic today— and a tempting target for modern composers who have created their own “complete” versions. 

9. and 10. Don Quixote (1969) and The Other Side of the Wind (1976) by Orson Welles

Filmmaker Welles left a legacy of partially completed and abandoned projects. Don Quixote was filmed over some 15 years and left in disarray (the death of the actor playing Don didn't help). Surviving fragments of the film were edited into a somewhat confusing 1992 release.

The Other Side of the Wind was different, though. Welles's last full, non-documentary film was nearly done, and filmed from start to finish. It just had the misfortune of being partially funded by a relative of the shah of Iran. After the Iranian revolution, ownership of the film was thrown into question, and Welles never edited it all together. Director and author Peter Bogdanovich has labored mightily to do so, but those pesky rights issues have kept the movie out of bounds for now. Well, except for the YouTube leaks.

11. Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Coleridge meant for his now-classic poem to be 200 or 300 lines long. The whole work came to him in a hallucinatory dream, and after waking up he started writing it down. But Coleridge was then interrupted by a "person on business from Porlock" and forgot the rest of the poem. "A person from Porlock" has thus become literary shorthand for an intruder who breaks a writer's train of thought. Nabokov and Heinlein, among others, have made the reference. And Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams used the incident as a major plot point in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

[h/t Newsweek]


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