Sunday, January 12, 2014

Should you destroy your own art?

I recently had a conversation with another artist about whether or not you should ever destroy your own art. It turns out I have googled the topic before to get the perspective of other artists out there. Most people, including the man I was talking to a couple of weeks ago, vociferously say "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! NEVER destroy your own art!" To which I reply, "Bullshit; why not?"

While I do understand that you never know what will strike a chord with posterity, I don't think it serves the artist to keep every.single.thing he or she has ever made. Having too much of your own creations around can become stifling, limiting, and overwhelming. Additionally, an artist has to be able to admit to himself when something isn't working, when a piece or technique is crap, or when the motivation to continue has utterly died. In these cases, either destroying the work or starting over with a fresh layer of gesso and painting something new can be reinvigorating and refreshing.

Creation and destruction go hand in hand, and if an artist wants to remove a work from their repertoire, then by all means it is her prerogative to do so. I don't buy that everything an artist does is worth preserving, and I know from first-hand experience that keeping too much of the bad can have a negative effect on future work.

Now, do I think an artist should destroy everything that s/he deems to be unworthy? No. There is a value in revisiting an old work to see what went wrong and then comparing it with later iterations to be sure the problem was solved. Additionally, an artist can change their opinion about a piece, so it's good to hold on to something he doesn't like for a time to see if the mood eventually softens. And, of course, it may turn out that someone out there just "has to have" a certain painting, and when that is the case, the artist should not stand in the way and should strive to understand what caused a chord to be struck with the viewer. Finally, there is sometimes a humor value in looking at something so terrible that you almost don't believe you painted it. But should the world castigate an artist when she decides that none of the aforementioned reasons are good enough to spare a work? Of course not. When this happens, observers should avoid clinging to the default opinion that all output by Artist X absolutely must be spared. Because that notion, my friends, is just a myth we've come to interpret as a fact...

This photo is a detail of a work I destroyed a few years ago after realizing that I had executed the entire thing badly. While the painting had a lot of merit, the positive attributes were not enough to save it from the hammer and trash. I didn't even spare the stretcher, which was perhaps a mistake, but I was in a zone and didn't realize that I could have reused that part! The underpainting was terrible and misguided, the colors had not been worked out adequately beforehand, and I tore the canvas before I was done painting! (The rips seen here were actually intentional and part of the work, not the destruction, but they should have been made after all the paint had been applied instead of halfway through the process.) There were too many different techniques being explored here, and the effect was not organic, yet cacophonous. In the end, it could not be saved, and I don't regret it one bit...

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