Burn Pile or Sale Bin?

If you've been painting for any length of time you've made bad paintings. In fact, there are those who maintain that the better you are as a painter, the more bad paintings you'll produce simply because you'll produce more paintings overall.

I agree.

I also agree that as a painter I should paint everyday in order to get better. And I learn from my mistakes. And if I was a songwriter I'd tear up bad songs. And if I was a baker, I wouldn't sell burnt bread for a lower price.

So, that brings me to the growing pile of mediocrity in my basement. When I sort through paintings the bad ones are tossed on a pile in the basement so that I can tear off the canvas and re-use the wood bars. I don't paint over old paintings. I could say it's because it's not archival (generally true) but the truth is that I love a fresh, smooth start.

A couple of weeks ago I was giving someone a studio tour and she was appalled to hear that a painting leaning against the wall was destined to be ripped off it's stretcher bars and thrown away. She was even more shocked to hear about the growing pile in the basement. Because she was young and just out of college, and because the painting was OK and not embarrassing, I let her take it with her.

In the last couple of weeks I've been pondering the pile. It's getting bigger. I know some artists sell bad work at a low price to get rid of it and bring in a little cash. I've always been inclined to destroy the evidence.

What do you do with your unsuccessful paintings?


I hide them and look at them from time to time to remind myself of what not to do. When I can't bear being in the same building as them anymore they get thrown away. While artists are often criticised for being too self-critical I think one must always retain integrity in their works and art. I think we all know when something really isn't good enough or whether it's a case of it's good enough but I personally wouldn't hang it on my wall (it happens).

If it's not good enough then don't sell it or you won't be happy with yourself, I know I'd feel like I'd conned someone somehow. I think it's fine to give these pieces away if someone really wants it but not to take money for them. Be true to yourself, your abilities and your clients. I think you've got it spot on as you have it.

I painted a dreadful piece today. It's going STRAIGHT in the bin!
Dan McShane said…
It is nice getting to screen them and decorating my office with geologic landscapes. I very much enjoy the Victoria Eratic. Makes geologist happy that someone would paint it even if it did not meet your standards.
Ann Chaikin said…
I've just begun a new project using my old bad paintings. I create new paintings over the top of them. I don't cover them but incorporate parts of them into the new paintings. The result is a newer, more abstract approach to painting, giving the information on the canvas from the old painting a voice in the new ones.
Sara Lubinski said…
I burn them in a little whacky ceremony. When I have a good pile, I do a little dance around the flames, and thank those paintings for all they have taught me, and that I will never have to look at them again.
Lisa McShane said…
Caroline - I went through and pulled out a shocking pile of early paintings to throw away!

Dan - yes, not too many artists are out there painting erratics...:) Casey Klahn recognized the rock though.

Deborah -yes!

Ann - I hope I get to see those, they sound interesting.

And Sara - that sounds like a fantastic ceremony. I'd love to join in!
Leslie Sealey said…
I'm a big fan of the "bad art bonfire." It's very liberating!