The Best Idea for Unloading Unsold Art

We received loads of good ideas for what to do with earlier artwork that is taking up emotional energy and inventory space.

Many of you wanted to donated it to charity, sell it at a steep discount, repurpose it, or destroy it. On top of this, a number of you said that if it's not up to your standards, you should rework or destroy it rather than give it away. I agree.

As promised, I have selected a winner. Be sure to keep reading for the honorable mentions.

The Winner

Black Forest Fire painting
©Carol A. McIntyre, Nature's Promise. Oil on panel, 20 x 20 inches.

The best idea for “how to get rid of earlier art” is from Carol McIntyre. Knowing Carol, this solution fits her m.o. Like her painting and personality, Carol tackles unwanted work with a flair.

She writes . . .

About 15 years ago, I had a bonfire at a friend’s country home, with lots of acreage, to burn many old watercolors, prints, and notecards. I invited only a few close friends who understood (I had a couple who got upset with me). Those that came brought something in their lives that they wanted to burn and tossed that in. It was a wonderful ceremony — music and poems, a great stew, hot cider, etc. — It was cleansing for everyone and an intimate experience. I would recommend it if appropriate.
Just the other day, I sanded a 30×40 panel with a completed painting, applied gesso and now I cannot wait to start a new painting.

I love this because 1) it took courage to do 2) it was emotionally cathartic 3) it involved others in a type of ritual 4) it involves fire, and 5) most importantly, it seemed to be more about the future than about the past. Full of hope and new beginnings.

Congratulations, Carol! You'll receive a copy of Chris Guillebeau's book, The $100 Startup.

Honorable Mentions

To Helen Howes, who reviews her older unsold work on an annual basis: the PRIZE FOR PLANNING.
Jacqueline Quinn gets the PRIZE FOR TAKING ACTION. She's putting your ideas to work in her show this weekend.

painting of an onion
©Kathleen Moore, Ruminations on Mortality: Onion 3. Oil on canvas, 14 x 11 inches.

Kathleen Moore receives the BEST AND MOST DETAILED IDEA FOR A CHARITY GIVE AWAY. You just have to read it.

Jana Van Wyk gets the PRIZE FOR THOROUGHNESS for sharing numerous ideas.

To Rani Garner: the ENLIGHTENED ARTIST PRIZE for noting, “If I don’t like it enough to exhibit in my own home, then I shouldn’t expect someone else to want to buy it.”

To Karen Meredith, the I WISH I HAD SAID THAT PRIZE: “I think a distinction needs to be made about whether something hasn’t sold because the right buyer hasn’t come along…or if it’s really not to one’s standards. ”

Another Karen Meredith gem gets the PRIZE FOR LET'S TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT: “Sometimes just changing the frame makes all the difference!”

Bill Engell is the lucky recipient of the LET'S BE PRACTICAL ABOUT THIS PRIZE. He writes: “Most importantly, try not to fall in love with the works. Love the process.”

Rusty gets the MARKETING PRIZE. He writes: “I gift some of my unsold work to some of my students. Sometimes they are demo pieces, work that I created just for the fun or exploration of it. They don’t really fit into any of my ‘series' and they don’t compete with any work that collectors/patrons have. My students feel valued and I know that I have a fan for life.”

To Will Eskridge goes the LET'S DO THE OPPOSITE PRIZE: “. . . or I raise the price.”

*Honorable mentions receive the deep satisfaction that they helped out other artists.

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18 thoughts on “The Best Idea for Unloading Unsold Art”

  1. All good suggestions though I also agree distinction should be made whether the artist feels the work is worthy of saving or not, not just unsold. Sometimes the right buyer just hasn’t come along. Some paintings I would love to retrieve and burn, others I am happy to keep until the right one comes along.

  2. What a terrific collection of ideas! Carol have you ever been to Zozobra in Santa Fe? In late august/early Sept annually. A rite of renewal festival. They burn a 49 foot puppet. You can put anything in it. Old love letters, parking tickets, divorce papers. A ceremony about leaving the old behind. Thousands attend. We take our VT students every year.

  3. I’ve filled garbage bags a few times over the years, but my kids get upset that I didn’t offer the stuff to them first. It is very freeing to get rid of the older things though, especially when making a big switch in styles or media.
    I had a ceramic instructor who would just drop the things on the floor to keep his students from picking through the trash for them. He didn’t want substandard work out there in his name. But he had to quit doing that when a shard of fired glaze cut a student’s leg. Oops.

  4. What a great way to start the day– to discover that I had won Alyson’s contest!! She then posts “Nature’s Promise,” a painting I did last year in response to the devastation of my community by the Black Forest wildfire. Notice the smoke of the fire in the background. The blue wildflower popped up in my garden upon our return from evacuation as a sign of hope and promise. (Our home, garden, yard and my studio were spared.) She trumpeted her sense of hope and said, “paint me.”
    Thank you Alyson! Cannot wait to get and read the book.

  5. I agree with Carol that weeding out work by trashing is very liberating. (although open burning of oil paintings or other work seems environmentally unsound to me) If you’ve been at this for a while, and are somewhat prolific, there are always stronger examples of any series that you can hold onto. There’s plenty to leave my daughter and others when I’m gone. Slashing up an oil painting brings home the concept that value is a relative thing.

  6. I love the idea that my art is impermanent unless someone wants to own it, and make it less impermanent. I paint in oils and regularly sand down and re use boards. Thank you Alyson for your blog and books and everything.

  7. I did this about 10 years back–had a big bonfire and got rid of a lot of work–including all my journals, morning pages, etc. that I had lying around. It was very freeing. I did keep my sketchbooks and nature journals but after cleaning out my mom’s house and my mother in law’s house after their deaths I knew I didn’t want just random confessional writings around so I destroyed them. I also got rid of all sorts of unsold artwork that was cluttering up my studio and my life. It gave me a fresh start and was great. Several artist and writer friends joined me and we made a party of it. Great day.

  8. I have limited space and have done painting over pretty often and have sold several pieces with other work underneath. I actually like painting this way from time to time instead of just toning a blank canvas. If by my third try on a canvas I still am not succeeding the fireplace gets fed. Either experience is cathartic.
    I am not happy with auctions , they are usually not run properly and I would rather just give a check than have my work go for next to nothing.
    Unless you have never shown your work to anyone I suggest being very picky about which auction you contribute to. Ask and make sure that your work will be shown properly , that you have a sizable minimum bid in place and that if the work is not sold it is returned to you. If the work is so unlovable that you don’t even want it returned , don’t take any credit for it either .

  9. I think there have been some great ideas discussed on here but I to question the safely of burning art with paint or other objects on them. This is very unsound practice for the environment and also people who live in the district with asthma and other breathing problems. Since I have a child who lives with the reality of breathing issues I would ask people to carefully consider re working art rather than burning it.

  10. I got crazy cleaning out and love it. So freeing! Thanks, Alyson for putting this stick of dynamite under us. We are moving to a small apartment in my daughter’s home. Once I started throwing out, it became invigorating. I began small..under the sinks, then my clothes closet, now I am up to the studio,
    We are near the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital. I had an idea to crop my discarded watercolors into small abstracts, mat them and give them away to the children cancer wing as a” hopeful get well card”. I am one of the risk groups and homebound for COVID (to stay well) so I have lots of time to toss and reinvent.

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