Should Your Older Art Be Put Out to Pasture?

Poor things. They're barely three years old and they're already considered past their prime.

I'm not talking about the horses running the Triple Crown races this year.
I'm talking about your art.

Lanie Frick, Horse painting
©Lanie Frick, Dozing. Acrylic on linen panel, 16 x 20 inches. Used with permission.

Keep Older Art Images Out of . . .

  • Portfolio presentations – in general. Galleries and patrons commissioning work probably want to see recent work only, but a museum curator would want to see your life's work. ALWAYS keep out any work (old or new) that isn't up to par or that looks like it is a student piece.
  • Exhibit proposals. If you want to show your newest work, keep the old stuff out of sight. See below for retrospectives.
  • Juried show entries. Most juried shows state the time frame in which the art should have been produced. Newer art is favored here.

Where You Can Show Older Art

  • In the archived work on your website. As I explain in I'd Rather Be in the Studio your newest work should be front and center. Older work can be archived in deeper (not main) links.Do not call work “Older” on your website! Use the term “archived” or use dates to categorize. Like it or not, “older” doesn't incite enthusiasm.
  • Retrospective exhibitions. Retrospectives are my favorite exhibitions because an artist's entire oeuvre can be studied at once. Why not have your own retrospective? Or dare you have a show of only older work?
  • In blog posts. Don't hesitate to feature older work in blog posts in order to tell stories and compare to newer work.
  • On your Facebook Timeline. Use older work to beef up your business page Timeline and provide a virtual retrospective.

I think I've just hit the basics here. What else might be in question?

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45 thoughts on “Should Your Older Art Be Put Out to Pasture?”

  1. Hi, Alyson! Have you, or has anyone, found a good way to basically do a yard sale of older work? I’ve thought of putting up a page on my site or blog offering older work as “Out to Pasture Sale,” or something like that. I have yet to find a way to do this that made sense, was clear and yet was not critical of the older art. There’s nothing wrong with it! It’s just not what I am doing now.

    1. Carrie,
      I’ve been selling off older work 1 piece at time (1 per month) on ebay. On occasion I’ll toss in a very small slightly newer piece for fun but mostly I’m selling work that is 10-15 years old and not at all like my current style of work.
      I’m not making a ton of money but I’m finding new homes for these older works and clearing out closet space.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Carrie: Yes, Lisa’s model is a good one. I like that the art finds homes that want it rather than just taking up space and energy in the studio.

  2. Carrie,
    The selling platform you choose, somewhat determines your audience, which then gives you a clue to the words to use. Which brings you back to what Alyson has been talking about–writing. The name you choose for the sale, the advertising, do make a difference. “Older”, “out to pasture”, etc all make me (the possible customer) think of UNWANTED. I am looking for something unique, vibrant, emotionally moving. I want to focus on the work not when it was made.
    As an example…Say you have as subjects: flowers, gardens, nature, maybe animals; advertise a “garden tea party” at your local garden shops, nurserys, women’s groups, etc and serve ice tea at your garage sale. Put a unique twist on it.
    Good Luck

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Terry is right. You wouldn’t want to advertise it as Older/Out to Pasture. I used those terms here for dramatic effect and, really, because that’s what we say behind closed doors.
      But you have to have that marketing spin (without deceiving!).

  3. Thanks, Terry – That’s what I’ve been wondering – if people are selling their older work, what words are they using to successfully describe/frame the work?

  4. This is another good post Alyson, thanks so much for taking the time to write them. I have often wondered how long it is before art is classed as ‘older’. I recently put a 2008 painting forward for a competition and it did really well, got selected for the final exhibition but potential buyers seemed concerned it was 2008 and wanted to know if I had any more recent work. The painting did not sell at the exhibition it appears for that reason,
    Also I am a bit of a prolific painter and exhibit as often as I can with the result that I cannot show my paintings 3 or 4 times in a row especially the ones left over after an exhibition (where others have sold).
    I have often wondered if i have a ‘sale’ of old paintings whether that would not be devaluing the paintings of have customers think they need to wait a few months for the price to come down.
    Any thoughts?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Anne: As I said above, I think anything over 3 years old is “older.” But some people might say anything over 2 years.
      I wouldn’t put “older” art in any competition.
      When you have a sale, invite your collectors first. Say it’s One Time Only.
      Lots of artists do this when they move.

    2. Totally agree about not putting ‘older’ work in any competition Alyson, sadly I found that out to my cost tho at the time i chose it it was the closest match to the criteria and did make it through the competition. Just didn’t sell.
      I guess what would be a consideration would be categorizing older (oops that word again) into periods and presenting them as such ie if I were Picasso I would be exhibiting works from my ‘blue’ period. That way I guess if your style or approach has changed it would be good way of showing your ‘thought’ process at that period in your life.
      BTW – does anyone ever rework ‘older’ paintings? I every so often will take an older one and rework it with a fresher approach. Anybody else do that?.

  5. I’ve actually been selling my older work lately on Zatista. I haven’t been able to get anyone to bite on my new work. People like it, but no one’s buying. No big deal, maybe in a few years when my “current” pieces will be “past” pieces, they will sell. It’s kind of a like a really long assembly line, I guess…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Will: Sorry to hear your current work isn’t selling. Do you think it needs to mature – come into its own?

    2. possibly. I’ve still got ideas on improving and expanding on my current style. so I’m kind of in a constant “oh the next one is going to be better..” frame of mind. my past work is more “traditional” so I think I have/had developed a safe following with that work.

  6. Carrie, Last year I had an Open House at my studio and an Art Garage Sale literally in my garage. I set the garage up with easels, etc. and sold my older stuff really cheap. I suspect several people would frown on this, but it felt really good to have my pieces find new homes and I made several people very happy. The latter just may become future collectors of my newer work. I am going to do this again in Sept.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Carol: I want you to keep us updated on this. I don’t mind the garage sale thing, but I do worry about doing it too often. I would look at every 3-5 years.

    2. Good point, but last year was such a bust – for reasons I will not go into – that I do not feel there is any danger doing it again this year. My list is a whole lot bigger and different for this fall. 🙂

  7. Excellent ideas, Carol and Will! And both of you, have any collectors of your current work bought your older work? Did you get any sense that people felt the lower prices devalued the newer, higher-priced work?

    1. yeah, I haven’t had a problem with people de-valuing my past work. (at least no one has told me that) I have a few different markets, I guess. Locally I’ve sold current(ish) pieces and online I’ve sold more past work. I think online, people generally are looking for a discount, or the fact they can’t see it in person might psychologically bring the price down. Either way, I’ve been pretty successful so far moving discounted old pieces online (through Zatista)

  8. Great answers, everyone, and thank you Alyson for your input, too. Yes, Carol, my collectors have become friends – and I do think they would get it.
    And Alyson, I guess I don’t have to promote it as “older” – but it is clearly older – good, yes, but vastly different from what I am doing now. A whole different approach. But maybe I should just bring a few pieces to my current shows and see what happens.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Carrie: Stop! Don’t do that. Don’t mix the work that looks vastly different with the current stuff. You’ll confuse people.

  9. Jumping in here….I am a ruthless weeder-outer of boomerang paintings: my artwork that has come back unsold from a gallery/galleries. Often after not seeing a piece for a few months or even years, I immediately can see it’s not good enough for my current standards or see flaws I didn’t notice when I was excited at its creation. I paint about 60-75 oils each year, sell about 75%, and the rest get taken off their stretchers and rolled/stored. A few get reworked or resized. I wouldn’t offer it to another gallery if I was no longer happy with it, but sometimes the oldies are really good and it just takes eight different showings before it gets the right pair of eyeballs in front of it!

  10. Thanks, Alyson – That’s why I haven’t mixed the work. It is too visually confusing.
    I think one answer to all of this, at least for me, might be to say that this work, apart from the pieces I am keeping for a retrospective, is just not good enough to sell, and either donate it or paint over it.

  11. HEY!!!!! It ain’t old work, it’s examples of ones early work. Later work , is labled, examples of later work. ENOUGH!!!! with old work, or new work!!!!
    We artists are not chickens laying eggs. DIG?????
    Bob Ragland , selling early and late work.

  12. The I.R.S. looks at older inventory in a completely different perspective.
    # 9 of whether you “act like a business” looks at older inventory as potential revenue.
    The I.R.S. wants to know “whether you can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets”. Your older work is an asset which hopefully is appreciating in value. In addition, your business may have included older work as inventory or included in overhead expenses in previous years.
    Of course, this issue is only relevant if you consider your art a “business.”

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Harriete: I’m a bad Art Biz Coach because I didn’t even think of this angle.
      Do you really believe that most artists can claim their work is appreciating? I’m not sure I believe that.
      I’m thinking I need a post on this – I’ve never discussed inventory in re to taxes.

  13. I’m getting at least two considerations here beyond the age of a piece of work: style and viability. For myself, I know in my heart of hearts whether a piece from awhile back has any style of mine I still want to be associated with. If not, I keep one or two excellent examples for the retrospective and, since I work in ceramics, my silver hammer takes care of the rest. (It’s just not a good idea to donate and then see them at the local flea market!!!)
    As for viability, that’s a judgment call. It’s a tradition in ceramics to hold Seconds Sales and sometimes I’ve created a Sale or Markdown area, but really, do I want my work out there as a Second? I’m not a potter, so it’s not as simple as a bowl having a glaze drip, and I’ve decided I do not.
    Is the style just older, or is it “unrealized?” That’s where the viability comes in.
    And I’d seldom mix work from two-three years ago with my freshest pieces, as there’s always enough of a difference to ME which creates an inner disconnnect making it hard for me to think of the wholeness of the body of work, even if no one else notices. (But if nothing else, sales tell me they do.)

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Liz: I can always count on you to bring a fresh perspective. I don’t like the “seconds” idea. But I do enjoy the thought of the hammer whacking at the earlier work. I know some 2-D artists who should do this. 😉

    1. Sari, I wholeheartedly agree with you and and am SO glad you posted that article saying exactly what I thought. Obviously, we will not hoard every unsold work we make. Odds are great that we will not attain Warhol stature, true. But chances are better if we do act like we will, believe that we will and keep moving in that direction. I’ve saved a few pieces of works that have been published and certain faves from different styles. If you don’t become an art icon, it is easier to remedy the mistake of having too much work than it would be to remedy the mistake of not having kept any if you do become an icon. One class that I took told us that if an event happens in your career that makes your work more valuable, then you should contact every gallery carrying your work and “up” the prices across the board….no matter how old. Maybe I think differently because I cannot make 365 great works a year. I’m lucky if I can get 12 in a year. AND about “old” work? If it is still work that I can stand by, I will sell it. If I am not proud of it, I will not sell it old OR new.

    2. Linda…I made one sculpture last year…One…But it is a really good
      one…I don’t think how many you do is a problem- more, how good is the
      one you do manage to do…
      I love what you said about the tip about raising your prices across
      the board when a big something happens…
      I’ve been trying to understand how Jasper Johns preserves his prices
      so well- I know he controls his art by keeping it under his own roof,
      but I realize, by keeping it in his own inventory, he can raise prices
      whenever he wants…He’s not calling up galleries to tell them to
      inflate a price…

    3. Here is my plan: I don’t really care about the monetary value. I care about the historical value. So I want to become an artist that people would want to know the history of my work. If I don’t become that, I will die trying.
      I hang on to certain pieces but I also have some works that are in places that I believe I could loan from if I were to need them for an exhibit like this one-
      Never know, do you?

  14. I recently acquired a painting that had been painted 20 years ago. I bought a new frame and hung it in the gallery. It has really attracted a lot of attention and I think it will probably sell. It was a good painting then and it is a good painting now. I have had some that I feel are not my best–sometimes I rework them–but usually I just get rid of them.
    I’d like to know what others think of this idea–what if you changed the name–say to your maiden name and sold on ebay? Just curious about what y’all would think.

  15. If you hoard every unsold work of art for your one day estate for your loved ones to deal with you are creating a headache for them [say 20 000 paintings]. They are not necessarily artists’ or have any concept of how to sell art.
    For the sake of continuing art inspiration old art [over two years since painted] needs to be disposed of on a regular basis and it also generates studio space. I keep about 100 paintings in the studio at any one time.
    My smaller test pieces go to EBay and raise some income for me.
    The larger pieces [about 25 per year] go to my favourite charity for them to sell and to generate useful income in the fight against world starvation.
    All requests from other charities are denied. It is perhaps self-deception that one’s art will be valuable one day. It is better to put it out there now.

  16. Ive recently sold two works that were created more than ten yrs ago. I brought them into the studio to fill empty spots due to multiple shows I was in. My savy collectors commented right away on the difference in style. But it proved once again that I believe there is a home for every painting.

  17. What an interesting discussion. My work has “evolved” (improved) since I started painting 3 years ago and I don’t think my older pieces reflect my real style or ability. Newer pieces are more representational and the color is more complex. But the earlier pieces have a nice direct, fresh painting quality that I still appreciate. So I have them on a page on my website called “fresh colors” and that feels right to me. For larger shows I group those earlier paintings together and price them slightly less. They go well together and sometimes sell as “pairs” or companion pieces.
    Thanks for all the good ideas – I will look into ebay as a option too!

  18. This is such interesting dialogue. I loved the article Sari Grove linked to. (thanks, Sari!) I recently had a sale of works created before we lived in our current location. Most of those works had never been shown here before. The prices were reduced, and I marketed to my collectors and local patrons. I didn’t sell as much as I had hoped, but I met my financial goal and I am happy to have more space. I do think it’s important to hold onto the best works from each period of my artistic journey, but it’s impossible to keep everything – especially if you are prolific.

    1. Karine…Alan Bamberger who wrote the article is a great resource…He also is a lovely person & answered me right away when I was conflicted about an art issue…

  19. Robin Neudorfer

    I just sold a pastel that was 3 yrs old. The collector had no idea, and I certainly wasn’t advertising that it was dated…. though I don’t feel 3-5 yrs as being “old” or “early” work.
    He was interested in the making of the work. I am glad that I was at the Artist Reception in order to tell him about it.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Robin: I agree that most buyers don’t give a horse’s pa-toot what the date is on a work.
      I do think there are serious contemporary collectors who do.
      Glad you could make that sale! Being there in person is so valuable.

  20. Aleada Siragusa

    If the IRS is taxing older art work and art that has not been sold yet as inventory then they should deduct the whole price of the value you place on an art work when you donate it. Other products are valued this way. Currently art work donated by an artist is only worth the value of the paper it is placed on. This is not legal because we are being taxed a certain value for it unsold. Either do not tax us for our art work that is not sold, (our inventory), or allow us to donate it for the value you wish to tax the art as inventory. The Arts Council has lawyers that donate their time to helping artists and art issues, they should look into this and advocate for the artist.

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