Should Artists Get Rid of Art They No Longer Like?
Q: I read where you recommended that artists never destroy or liquidate their art for next to nothing, but rather that they save it, no matter what it is or how much of it they have. I'm not so sure I agree. All great artists review their work and destroy what they do not perceive as being up to their standards, like Edward Hopper, Hans Hoffmann, David Park and Georges Rouault, for example. It is up to artists to create their own images and decide what their best and worst works of art are, not obscure reviewers or dreary academics.
A: We see somewhat eye-to-eye on this issue. I don't think artists should save absolutely everything either, and agree with you that they should go through their work periodically to weed out pieces that do not meet their standards. What I advise against is that artists, based solely on their own opinions and zero feedback from others, destroy significant portions of their art wholesale simply because they're tired, frustrated, changing styles, running out of storage space, moving into smaller quarters, or are acting on orders from whomever they live with because they decide a major housecleaning is in order. I doubt that Hopper, Hoffmann, Park or Rouault used those sorts of criteria when evaluating their work and deciding whether to keep it or toss it. But let's back up for a moment...
Your sentiments regarding reviewers and academics (obscure, dreary or otherwise)-- and while we're at it we might as well include dealers, informed collectors, and anyone else who regularly views and responds to art-- will not serve you well. No artist creates art in a vacuum and no artist totally creates his or her own image. The art that you or any other artist produces is the result of a lifetime of experiences and interactions including those with dealers, teachers, collectors, scholars, reviewers, family members, fellow artists, and everyone and everything else on the planet you come into contact with. You receive continuous written, verbal and visual feedback on all aspects of your art on an ongoing basis, and ignoring what you don't want to hear simply because you don't want to hear it only works to your detriment. And labeling or stereotyping reviewers, academics or anybody else only makes matters worse because across-the-board rationalizations like this instantly disconnect you from thoughts, ideas, feelings and feedback, some of which may be highly insightful and constructive.
Consider this hypothetical for a moment: Suppose Picasso (or fill in the blank with the famous artist of your choice) had lived and created all of his art in total seclusion in a cave in the wilderness until he was seventy years old, and then suddenly introduced himself and his work to the public for the very first time. Do you think that art would look anything like it looks today? Doubtful. To believe for one instant that either his image or his body of work would even remotely resemble the image, the art or the place in art history that he holds today would be absurd. His oeuvre was not only a product of his genius but is also, in a sense, a collaboration with everyone and everything around him.
So never dismiss comments or feedback about your art out-of-hand, no matter who they come from or how awkwardly or ineptly they're presented. Think of them more like gifts from those select few viewers brave enough to share with you what they actually think-- because as you well know, the overwhelming majority of viewers keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves, and silence is never any help at all. You don't have to act every single time anyone makes a remark about either you or your work, but you should at least cogitate on what they have to say. These instances when people respond to your art are wonderful opportunities for dialogue, argument, involvement, exploration of new ideas, and for your growth and evolution as an artist.
And this takes us full circle, right back to your studio. Rather than decide entirely on your own what stays and what goes, ask for input from people you know and trust to be truthful with you about your art, and especially from experienced artists, professionals, collectors and others who either buy, sell, create, curate, write about or otherwise transact in art on a regular basis. In fact, REQUIRE input from others before making major career decisions like this. What you see as worthless, outdated or otherwise no longer relevant to what you're doing now, others might see as seminal moments in the unfolding of your artistic career, significant early works, turning points in your development, and so on.
Oftentimes artists are so close to their art on such a constant and intimate basis that they come to view it radically differently from the rest of us-- and not always accurately. Over extended periods of time, for instance, artists can actually get sick of looking at certain pieces that others might totally appreciate and enjoy (and that includes potential buyers). That's why stepping back and asking for feedback from others is so essential BEFORE making any potentially career altering changes like divesting yourself of significant amounts of your art.
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