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An excerpt from "When M.I.T. Artist Shouts, His 'Painting' listens," an interview with Professor John Maeda conducted by Claudia Dreifus. (NYT)

Q. When you are creating your own computer art pieces, do you ever use prepackaged drawing programs? . A. Oh, yes, all the time. There are all kinds of fine touches that prepackaged software makes easy. I could invent my own finishing system, but this is faster. Of course, the basic ideas, I create. The problem is that most people can’t just “finish” things with this software: They have to use it to start them, also. For much of recent history, people have created with brush, ink, paper—the materials of art. Now that they have begun creating with software and computers, the styles that emerge are homogeneous because the software is universal. Without being able to know how to program, you can’t break out of the technology—just like if you don’t know how to use brush and ink, you’re limited.

With a quotation mark, I think "finish" is not used in its literal meaning, which doesn't make much sense in this context because I don't find anything that's not "finished." In addition, what is the "things" in reference to?

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I believe he is discussing “finishing touches” as in “retouching” and “airbrushing”. (I.e. the program is functioning like gimp, photoshop, lightroom etc, by modifying existing data) He also claims to be able to make such a system (program) himself.

I could invent my own finishing system, but this is faster. Of course, the basic ideas, I create. The problem is that most people can’t just “finish” things with this software: They have to use it to start them,

He uses it in a different meaning the second time, in the original meaning “to complete”. He admonishes artists for using the program solution to make art, not just polish it or apply finishing touches.

In a different context, the same meaning could be used here:

When I plant gardens, I use a soup ladle for the finishing touches on the flowerbeds. I could make one myself, but the shop sells a fine ladle. Of course I use a shovel and wheelbarrow for most work.

The problem is when gardeners don’t just use ladles to finish planting the bed, but to dig the whole thing.

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“Finish” in this sense means something like do the last steps in the process or apply the “final polish”.

“Things” means the piece of work being undertaken.

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