Destroying work




I just destroyed a large resin painting. First it was sawed in half and then I attacked it with a sledgehammer.  This act was not a cultural protest or a temper tantrum.

Recently I’ve participated in some on-line critiques, and what I’ve noticed is the tendency of mediocre artists to get too attached to their work and fret about small changes. Half the time, I want to suggest that they do 99 drawings and then post the hundredth one, instead of agonizing over the first one. After my latest exasperating experience, I thought about myself. Was I discarding 99 works, or was I clinging to my own work?

Throughout my art career, I have periodically destroyed my artwork. When I work on paper, I cull the weak drawings, roll them up and burn them in the fireplace.  There is something satisfying about the flames, as if getting rid of old work would make better paintings rise like a phoenix from their ashes. Paintings on canvas were even easier, once I decided that I was no longer satisfied with a painting, I would simply gesso over it, completely obliterating the original and creating a new, slightly textured canvas to work on.

However the resin works on panel have been more difficult to destroy. I can paint or resin on top, but not all the works lend themselves well to this. Obviously I’ve already invested a lot of time and money in them as well. Usually I don’t resin a work until I’m completely happy with it, but occasionally show deadlines force me to rush work and I’ve ended up with a few paintings I’m not quite sure about. Luckily, sometimes someone comes in and falls in love with one and takes it home, but the other paintings stay in the studio like sad wallflowers at the dance. So I selected one painting I've never been happy with and sentenced it to death.

Everyone I’ve told about this destruction asks which painting it was, or suggests I should have just given it to them. I won’t even say which one, for fear they will say “I always liked that one,” which would make me feel awful. If it was a painting I really liked, I might consider donating it to a charity, but those paintings I’m not sure about…I think it’s better to destroy them. I don’t want to be an artist who clings to her work, just because she spent time and money on it.

As someone who has done a lot of reading about clutter while avoiding doing anything about it, I am very familiar with the idea that clutter clogs the energy in your room and prevents action. Paintings that hang around too long depress me, and make me question my own abilities. Getting rid of this painting made me feel both sadness and relief, but when I go into the studio the empty space is energizing. I was able to finish three paintings in a project I’ve been ruminating about for four months!

Last night I went for drinks at our neighbour’s place and she said to me, very gently, “Is everything okay? I saw you between our houses, doing something…with a sledgehammer?”

I laughed and told her I had been destroying a painting.

“Ah well,” she said, “It looked like you were getting something out of your system.”

That’s the truth. Getting rid of work can be cathartic for your studio and your mind. Try it and see.