To keep or not to keep old art

I’ve been thinking a lot about old art (paintings, sketches, etc. that I did in the past). A lot of what I’ve been dragging around with me over the years is from as far back as high school (over 20 years ago) and I think that they’re weighing me down, both physically and mentally.

From my mid-twenties to early thirties, I was predominantly focused on school, being poor, and my mother dying. During that time, I let art take a back seat. No, actually, it mostly ended up in the trunk. Yes, I did bits and pieces of art on occasion, but mostly I was too busy, too poor or too sad about letting my skills wane.

After graduating and starting my career, I thought that I would jump right back into being an artist. For a while, I sort of did – I used to make all kinds of crafty things and decorations for my cubicle. But, I really struggled with things like drawing and painting (two things I did a lot when I was in high school). Each time I tried to do anything serious, I just ended up frustrated and melancholy about how much skill I’d lost.

Tropical beach
One of my favourite random crafts.

Instead of doing something reasonable about it (like practicing), I simply lingered between looking for the book, class, inspiration, or what-have-you that would suddenly propel me back into life as an artist, or, spending my time reminiscing and moping about how I used to be quite a good artist. Neither of those are particularly useful and neither of them allowed me to move forward.

The other day, I decided that it was time to get rid of an old high school painting. I was really proud of it when I completed it and loved it more than any other piece I’d ever done. For reasons I can’t remember, I put it away in my portfolio for a time (I think we had just moved) and mom sneaked it out to get it professionally framed. It was one of the loveliest gifts she’d ever given to me and I’ve always given it a prominent position on my walls. But, it’s old and the paint has faded considerably. Now it just feels like a dim memory and a reminder of one of my only life regrets: not allowing art to maintain a prominent part of my life.

Dancing girl - art piece I did several decades ago
The painting mom framed for me. It’s gorgeous, except that the colours used to include deep and vibrant purples that are now just faded browny-purple.

In other words, seeing it no longer gives me joy. So, it’s got to go.

I also have some other old art: a few old sketch books (mostly from the last decade) and a scrapbook full of little mementos (doodles, small pieces of art, etc.). The sketchbooks aren’t anything special and I’ve never gone back to look at them. My high school sketch books had been impressive beasts that told an interesting story of my projects and progress, but I let them go ages ago. These sketchbooks are disjointed and inconsequential to me.

But, the scrapbook is a whole other kettle of fish. It feeds my moping. Instead of being inspiration for what I could be again, it’s become a reminder of regrets, what ifs, and moments when I felt painfully low about my “lack” of skill (read: need to practice).

It’s weird to think that I’ll be almost erasing my artistic past (I’ll keep my pictures of finished pieces), but I think the sketchbooks and scrapbook need to go – I think that I need to allow myself to be unburdened and see where it takes me. I don’t know if I’ll pick things up again or just allow myself to move on to other creative things, but I do know that I’m tired of carrying the weight of these regrets and I’m ready to start fresh.

But,thinking about this made me curious: do you keep your old art? Do you ever find that failed projects weigh you down? Do you think I’m completely nuts to have thrown away art?

Edit: I did get rid of everything and then promptly spent a couple of hours doodling and sketching over the weekend. So, I guess this is something I needed. I’m glad I had the courage to allow myself to start fresh. 

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5 comments

  1. Is there a way perhaps to touch up the painting to give it life again? If that was something you were interested in doing? I used to do a lot of painting and craft work in junior high and high school. Almost 2 years I went to a wine and paint class/date with an ex boyfriend and I have that painting up in my room and piece of me wants to throw it out and another piece wants me to keep it because it was something I did. I also have a painting done by a man who turned out to be a fake friend and I love the painting but hate the memory. I am on the fence lol

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    • It would have to be completely redone. Aside from the bits of white, all of the colours have faded or turned brown. But, I don’t really have a problem with getting rid of it. It is over 20 years old, after all, and it would leave room for other art or some photographs that I just purchased from a friend. It was a tough decision, but in the end, I’m happy that I deiced to get rid of it and start with a clean slate. And, if I ever regret it even the tiniest bit, I have pictures of it and I’ve kept the original sketch I used to plot out the image (complete with full details of the sculpture it’s based off of).

      Those would both be tough calls for me, too. Especially the painting you love that has a bad memory attached to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such an interesting problem and one i’ve discussed with other artist friends. It seems most of us feel that selling or giving away (depending on what you have) is the best way to go. There’s no point hanging on to stuff that doesn’t make you happy any more. Although I would urge caution on throwing away old school stuff, I think that is held on to for a different reason that simply to show our ability, its personal history and if it’s positive history, hang on to it, 50 years from now maybe it will make you smile or laugh or cringe at your innocence.
    What concerns me most about this post is the sense of sadness I get from it, you mention regret a lot and a ‘lack of skill’- your words not mine. In my many years of struggling to come to terms with art and what being ‘an artist’ means, I truly believe its not about ability or innate skill- all that stuff can be learned, it’s about how you look at the world. You don’t need anything else to be an artist except to believe that you are. I also think, once an artist always an artist. It just might not be taking the form you expect it to right now.
    I hope that you will find this encouraging. I sense that you feel sad because your inner self and outer one don’t quite meet up just now, but maybe you are looking in the wrong place. You will always be an artist, with or without your mum, with or without practice. What were you doing in those times that you feel sad about missing? Try and bring a little of that back into your life now (it doesn’t have to be anything to do with art). See how you go and be kind to yourself.
    Thinking of you kindly.
    b.xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • First, I want to thank you for your thoughtful response. I was hoping you’d chime in :)

      With regards to the school stuff, I do have a record of many of the finished pieces (I was careful to take good quality pictures), but I was, over the years, forced to pair down my collection to nothing more than a few scraps, which have little meaning without context (i.e. the rest of the sketchbook). It’s unfortunate, but it was necessary under the circumstances. But, I have to admit that I do sometimes wish I’d taken pictures of more things. I may, someday, recreate or expand of some of the pieces, and I know that I’m going to use some of the ideas and exercises to help me flex my artistic muscles.

      I was thinking of skill in two senses: the muscle memory of knowing how to handle the tools and the ability to create/recreate in whatever way you can. I know I have skill in the sense that I can draw, but things still feel a bit clumsy and my best drawing today is akin to mediocre drawings in my high school days. I know that this just means that I need to practice, practice, practice and I know that a final pieces involves a million sketches, iterations, and corrections. I just also happen to be a bit bummed out (sad, as you point out) that I let my skill deteriorate through lack of practice.

      Slight tangent: I remember, in grade 12 art, being in awe of two of my classmates. One was very skilled at portraiture and the other had incredible grace when painting. I lacked both and was convinced that I was less skilled than they were. But, when I discussed my final portfolio with my art teacher, I discovered that I was one of only a few to get the highest grade in the class. He pointed out that what I “lacked” in some areas I more than made up for in other areas, namely creativity. I had the bulkiest portfolio because I had a million ideas, and I had some of the more creative pieces because I was willing to think outside the box (paint clear glasses in reds and oranges instead of everyone’s greys and whites, zooming into focus on a particular corner of a scene, trying any and all medias just for the sake of trying them, etc.). He was the first person to show me that I was an artist.

      Anyway, I’m doing some other things in my life to make room for art, like getting rid of clutter (things I have little interest in) to make space for permanent art spaces in my apartment (which I’m pretty excited about!). It’s been a busy and exhausting month because of that, and I still have another week’s worth of work, but things are starting to fall into place. This weekend I spent several hours sketching trees and flowers and clouds (good mindless fun) and I finally decided on where to set up a painting corner (I have a lot of carpet, so this was a tricky decision).

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for the encouragement and the reminder that I *am* an artist. I really appreciate your kind words and bits of wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. P.s Christmas 2015 I gave away most of my embroidery hoop art, print cards, pocket mirrors and badges as xmas gifts – my stock as cherry&cinnamon. I’d rather see them go to friends and family than barely be able to sell them for cost price. It was heartbreaking, but it was like taking a mill stone from off my neck.

    Liked by 1 person

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