Thursday 23 December 2010

Bonfire of the vanities: destroying sub standard work

Home Thoughts from Abroad 
oil on canvas 100 x 100

I know an artist who resolutely burns much of her old work.  When I first started out I was very shocked when she told me this, particularly as the pieces she was destroying seemed beautiful to me at that time. Now I understand her actions only too well. 

Recently I visited an old friend who was among the first to buy my work and there was the painting she had bought hanging on the dining room wall.  I cringed - had I really thought that piece was sufficiently good to exhibit and with a relatively high price tag ?  The fact that my friend loves her painting is irrelevant, my pride is at stake !  I can see everything that was wrong with it now and know that my work has improved considerably since those early days.

Most of us who paint are our own harshest critics, never truly satisfied with what we have produced and spurred on by the idea that one day we will paint something ‘really good’!  The trouble is, that producing a piece of work can take days and sometimes weeks for really very little financial reward in view of the hours put in to its creation, so the temptation is to sell those pieces that don’t work at a knock down price in order to have more pennies to put into the materials fund.  But at the end of the day when you come face to face with a piece of sub standard work that you created do you really want your name on that for others to see when you know you can produce something so much better?

I suspect this feeling would apply to several of the great painters in art history.  Leafing through those coffee table books of images I have certainly come across work by the 'greats' of the art world that I know is simply in print because they produced it, but let’s face it, they too were human even if they are considered the gods of the art world – surely they must have had their bad days just like the rest of us?

Unfortunately, the more I paint, the more critical I become, so these days I do have quite a reject pile, but come what may I have decided to start 2011 off with a new tradition.  I am going to destroy my less than good work on the first day of January and take it to the tip for recycling!

Happy Holidays to you all and my thanks for reading these blogs and for your patience as they only emerge when I have something I really feel strongly about.


  1. Annie, Make sure you break it up really small or you might find someone has taken it home from the recycling station. I know of paintings that were taken off the street from someone's trash pick up....

  2. I think the reason we develop different feelings towards our creations from the past is becuase we were living in a different reality at a given time in a given place which is not our reality at the moment we encounter our work.

  3. Last summer, I came across Thistles, a terrible painting by Sargent at the Art Institute in Chicago. Seeing it brought out a whole range of a thoughts and emotions in me, but, all in all, it was a good thing. I think that sort of painting adds depth to an artist's oeuvre.

    The way I see it, if I judged a piece good enough to show when I first completed it, I view it as a snapshot of who I was at the time I made it. It may be a mess, but it's a sacred mess to me!

  4. Beautiful painting, Annie! I have a hard time imagine any of your art being destroyed. But if it's important to you... go for it. Happy New Year!