Till Death Do Us Art: How To Say Goodbye to your Old Work

Yes, you gave birth to that baby gathering dust in your closet back in high school. Your dying to get rid of it, but somehow it speaks to you from beneath mounds of dust bunnies and dead crickets. Suddenly you feel both love and hate for your long lost creation, yet you just can’t bare to let it go. Why?

Perhaps this work is a link to your past, reminding you of a time when you cared less about your creative outcome and more about the process of creating. You feel that you need to keep it because someday, it may inspire you to do something different, something great, something awesome and inspirational. The roaches and the doodle bugs need culture, you muse. So you cling to the art blast from your distant past that doesn’t love you back. When you finally wake up and smell the oily, yellowed college ruled paper that you sketched it on, you begin to realize what deep inside you have known all along. It probably never will. You will fail to find it’s hidden brilliance; it simply has no brilliance. It will fail at every angle from which it is viewed because at the time you produced it, you knew nothing about composition. Failing is part of success; it is a part of growth. Letting go of old art that has nothing to do with the work that you are producing now and will offer no real source of inspiration for future work is also a part of growth.

When it’s time to make that fateful decision whether to keep a work or to lose it, consider these suggestions that have helped me to clear my studio space.

1. Confidently pitch dated class projects-
Many people in the fine arts fondly refer to class projects as “student work.” Unless the outcome of a project was unusually brilliant (ex a strong, solid work that has influenced the style or subject matter of your present work or has won you an award from it’s entry into a well know publication) it is probably safe to assume you won’t be using it as a well of perpetual inspiration. Instead let it gently sail into one of those handsome black hefty bags that you keep in the kitchen cabinet.

2. Shred artwork that is damaged beyond repair-
If the materials that you used to create your work are yellowed, musty, moth-eaten and foul smelling chances are your avid collectors won’t appreciate adding these pieces to their collections either. Do yourself a favor and save your reputation. Toss them. If you don’t respect your art, who will. If you don’t respect your collectors, that can be deadly.

3. Kill ancient abandoned experiments-
You know you’ll never get back to these pieces. You chiseled, your smeared, your dabbled. They conquered you. They beat you up in that dark alley between mediocrity and brilliance. If keeping these pieces doesn’t inspire or push you to fight to express your unique, personal vision, then why revisit them. If you must preserve some memory, snap a digital picture, it takes up less space.

4. Dump unsophisticated, problematic work that you love to hate-
Work that lacks a definite, style, composition, strong color scheme, has no redeeming qualities, and has been sitting in a dark damp closet or lonely cramped corner for years, doing it’s won thing deserves an unceremonious drop kick in to the trash compactor. If you can’t find a way out, a way in, a way through, or a clever way to recycle this particular artistic mess and you are not willing to, than you know that you have a decision to make.

While their is some secret part of us that wishes that everything that we produce or have produced is gold, the harsh reality is that we make a lot of mistakes along the way. Many of these mistakes over time, are not worth keeping, some are. As we bravely continue on our own individual artistic journeys, we slowly learn which ones to keep and which ones to discard. Still, the beauty lies in knowing that there are other artists that share our experiences and they too have to make difficult decisions such as these. We are not alone in our triumphs and our failures.
*SPECIAL NOTE: If you are a student, and you find yourself reading this article, you may want to modify these suggestions as you are probably still developing the style and subject matter that you will want to market later on in the future.

*If you have any comments or questions about this post feel free to share!
I’d love to hear from you.


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