Deep Thought Thursday: What Do You Do with “Old Art”?

Kathleen Schildmeyer, who is in my Get Organized class, wants to know what to do with old art. Some of her ideas . . .

Probably for the artwork that does not represent my current style I should do a “clean out the studio sale” and sell these at a discounted price for the opening of the new studio space. 

Then there is the question about what do I do with the cards that no longer represent my current style, how about Christmas gifts, or a token gift with purchase? 

And the watercolor postcards [original watercolors on torn watercolor paper], perhaps include them in a journal or scrapbook of some kind.  Another thing I could do is to scan them in the computer and arrange them in a digital format to create a book to share with family?

Some art philosophers have claimed there is too much art to keep around forever. And many artists have destroyed art that no longer served their direction.

What do you think? What do you do with “old art”–art you no longer actively show or seek an audience for? Is there a point at which you should destroy it or just give it away?


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16 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: What Do You Do with “Old Art”?”

  1. If the work is of a quality consistent with my current work, I figure out a way to store it, and occasionally pull it out of the closet. Recently I sold a nice little watercolor for 5 times what I would have sold it for when I first started selling paintings, because it had been in storage for several years. (actually 15) When I pulled it out and decided to hang it, my prices had gone up. And pouff!, the painting jumped off the wall and moved to the midwest. Paintings that are not of comparable quality are long gone. Dumpsterville; burn-pile (in Vermont we can still do bonfires in the winter.) Sadly, I often encounter those works on family walls. But it is REALLY HARD to let go of those little babies we’ve spent long, tender hours nurturing.

  2. I review my stacks old work about once a year. Those pieces that are not up to my current standards get tossed out, painted over, or the stretcher bars are salvaged and canvas replaced. I always keep at least one or two pieces that represent my past work. That was not always my practice and there are a few pieces I now regret tossing. Those older works are great reminders of how far I have come and often show a turning point in the development of my current work. I have donated to charity auctions a few works that I feel are good to show but don’t fit my current collection of work. We all know that tax-wise this doesn’t net much (a whole issue of its own). But the “feel good” factor is high in knowing that my work has helped others, and that someone will be enjoying my work in their home. The press and good will it creates is really valuable, too.

  3. I just finished a piece that completely covered over an ealier painting and found the process to be really exciting. One of my artist friends said “deconstruction is part of my personal process” and that really clicked with me. There are certain paintings though, that I get a gut feeling about protecting. They feel significant in my journey so even if I see things I don’t like in them, I leave them.

  4. I’m looking forward to hearing some answers to this question! Working in watercolor, I find that the problem is not in junking the art but figuring out what to do with the mats & frames. I spent a lot of money framing those pieces, and, while they are no longer on par with my current skill level & style, I hesitate to unframe and junk them because then I will be stuck with frames and mats that I have to try to fill again. And there is nothing more creativity-stifling to me than trying to paint to fit a certain size and color scheme.

  5. Often times I am trying out a technique or I’m engrossed in a particular subject matter or medium that I tend to abandon once I’m satisfied. Those pieces are good for donations/charity or sale items with irresistable price tags for original art. Of course some art are just worth tossing in the round file for fear they would ever be associated with you!

  6. a few years ago i threw out everything i hadn’t sold. i had piles of preliminary drawings and sketches and half done demonstrations from classes and a few paintings i didn’t like. it was totally fun and satisfying and i’ve never been sorry. i also threw out about 20 years of journals. a friend did this first and i was horrified. she laughed and said that when she looked at them she realized she had the same thoughts and fears all the time so why not throw them out and get new ones. that made me laugh and i did the same and i have to admit–totally freeing! also, throwing out the old has made way for the new….as well as made more room in the studio. and i sell a lot of my work so it’s not like i just do it to throw it away…. and i keep all my sketchbooks…..

  7. I take photos of all my work. Anything that doesn’t sell within two years and isn’t up to my current standard of painting gets a fresh painting over and turned into a new painting. One day when I’m famous (ha!) they will scan under my old works and view entire new paintings underneath. That’s what I tell myself anyway! so they are never truly gone, and I have the photos also.

  8. I’ve been taking photos of all my work since I was 20 (too long ago) and now when I look back I enjoy the old and see how I’ve changed. I too paint over paintings and in so doing developed a new technique I really liked. One of the old abstracts had a lot of texture and when I painted a metalic nude over it I liked the texture there. This made me look into ways of recycling my fiber art as well.

  9. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Liza: You mean you see your art on YOUR family’s walls? And it’s work you don’t want to be reminded of? Now there’s an interesting situation. Michael and Erika: Good to be reminded that charity auctions might be one way to go. Shayla: I love “deconstruction is part of my personal process” and the gut feeling. Sometimes you just know. Angela: Maybe you just have a mat and frame collection that’s out of sight. We certainly had those at the museum. But good heavens, don’t keep work you don’t want just for the mat and frame. Mary: It’s nice to know you didn’t regret it. I have a friend who threw her journals away and regretted it deeply a year later. My mom has some stuff that I’d love to get my hands on and pitch, but she won’t let me near it. She knows I’m a thrower-awayer. Lauren: I love your line of thinking. Your work will be just like the Old Masters, whose paintings get scanned and reveal other work underneath. Royce: Yea! Recycling. I love that. Many artists make art out of found objects. Your older art IS your found object for the new work.

  10. I don’t remember where I read the following idea: An artists life many times consists of a long time growing a business and patrons. Your bubble grows and you may even hit the famous arena, where everyone wants your stuff. But at some point you must go down the other side, your art bubble will burst. The key to surviving this burst is to have old works from prior series still around. After the bubble, people will want your old stuff and will pay nice money to get pieces of this or that series or process. If I am happy or proud of a piece when I complete it, or anytime there after, I keep it to try and sell. If I’m not happy with it, it immediately gets painted over. I find donating to non-profit auctions is a great way to get the older works out there, if you pick the right ones, they offer a percentage to the artist if it sells.

  11. Great question! I have done as many others have suggested: donated quality work, recycled lower quality work, cut up some work on paper (the area of the painting I like) to make cards or reframe, and given some away as gifts. I’ve kept a few, even if my style has changed. I like some rememberances of what I used to do; It helps me see how far I’ve come! Like Mary, I’ve rarely been sad about work I’ve tossed or recycled. You’ll know when it’s time to let go.

  12. Since I work in metal, I can’t repaint my old pieces that I don’t want to represent me anymore. But I do repurpose parts and can recycle the metal through a refiner. My family doesn’t always understand that I don’t want to put old pieces out that I think aren’t a part of my new direction or that I think aren’t up to snuff anymore. But I think that you have to remain fresh and keep sowing where you are going, not always where you’ve been.

  13. I am a big believer in painting over earlier works. Some of my art is on paper and if I do not care for it, I tear it and use the pieces in collage. If you do not work in collage you might offer your unwanted workshop exercises, earlier works, etc. to a collage artist. They ought to be delighted with the unusual colors on acid free paper.

  14. First of all, I paint over many older paintings. Next, they come out of framing if they are on paper so I can store them away. Recently, I’ve moved from a house I was in for over 40 years and the studio over 25 years. So, with so many pieces around that just arent’t what I do any more, I’ve given some away to friends. I gave several pieces to the local art museum to use in fund raising over the next couple of years. I still have some left and one of my daughters will take some of them. I’ve already given some to the kids. So, when I finally have to have everything out of the old house, I’ll just either paint over or destroy the ones I don’t want to keep for various reasons.

  15. Great topic! There are a few in my studio that I’m planning on reworking – just a bit – to bring them up to the level at which I am now working. What I’d been doing in the past, though, is take the older-but-still-presentable piece and donate it. Usually this is at a show where they have a silent auction to raise funds to help the local arts organization, local arts school, kids programmes, etc. It has to be a *decent* piece though, even if it doesn’t quite match my current style it canNOT be something I would be embarrassed by. So that does a couple of things – it clears out older inventory, supports a programme I believe in, and provides further advertising and visibility for both the cause and for myself. Win-win. 🙂

  16. I make totems – wonderful collages of pieces of ceramic. Often the piece isn’t happy as is and finds its new energy in different collages/totems (with the help of a hammer). For me totems are about how things break apart and come back together in a new whole, with new energy. They are a metaphor for life.

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