Editing the Body of Work

There comes a time in the life of the lesser known artist when he must destroy old work. This does not come easy. He will be reminded by others that they are “his children” and maybe he should repurpose the art. If one has the time, space and motivation to do this, great!  However, I do not have that luxury.

Early in my career, while stretching a new canvas, I knew that someday I may throw away the painting that I was about to create. It would be inevitable that some paintings may still be hanging around after all of the others had gone on to be parts of important collections and had been honored by reviews, write-ups and “Likes.” These works would take up valuable space.  Their stretchers would be needed for new ones.

Any working artist makes more work than the world needs.  I am no different.  I’ve experimented, tried different things. When I look at the older work I see failures, things that could have been better. I know where I went wrong. I rushed this or that and the result shows.  I may have seen the mistake when I painted it and did better the next time or didn’t notice it until now.

Now in the middle of my career, I have too much work. The best have found new homes and some of them are still around. However, there are a lot of clunkers.  This is the danger of being lesser known.  When I go, someone is going to have to deal with all of this which means almost all of it winds up in a dumpster, including the work that should live on. Oh, sure, someone may think there is something there and approach an art expert to help them with their new-found treasure but since that expert will find little documentation of my importance to the art world, they will likely say it’s not worth anything and then make up a bunch of reasons why it’s not worth anything.

This has happened.  A few years ago, a very accomplished artist in terms of quality and just shear volume of output passed away, leaving an entire three-flat full of art for his sons to dispose of.  Art dealers that were approached did not want to have anything to do with it as they had never heard of him.  They had multiple reasons why his legacy wasn’t worth carrying on.

So now I must edit my body of work so that there is only the good stuff left. Perhaps what remains won’t be such a chore to deal with so that it will be an incentive for someone to do something with it.

Since I value myself and my work, I can’t just throw it out.  When I destroy a painting it is with reverence, respect and sadness.  It is almost like disposing of a worn-out flag.  Although, since I can’t really burn it, I cut it up into pieces and discreetly wrap it up for the trash.  Hopefully the cotton canvas will eventually biodegrade and the remaining paint is not too toxic while in the landfill.

In the end though, I hope to have a very cohesive leftover body of work that can be valued and I will have made my mark.