Artists aren’t “supposed” to do that!

I used to be envious of some of my artist friends. The ones who always knew what type of art and style or subject matter would be their main focus and never strayed from that. I thought there was something wrong with me as I was all over the map exploring. I spent years experimenting, and will continue to do so, but my focus got clearer, and now it brings up another issue. After years of packing and moving my older art pieces everywhere with me, often having no room to even unpack, yet alone display them — then feeling they’re too good to toss, yet having dealers tell you “old art can’t be sold…” — I’ve finally embraced “learning to let go of the old” and am now tackling “what to do with it all?”

In Sanity Mixed Media Art Collage By Kathy Morawski

“In Sanity: Mentals of B Normal Psychology”, 10″ x 10″,
Mixed Media collage by Kathy Morawski

I asked some artist friends what they do with their older work, particularly if they were done in different styles than their works nowadays. Galleries usually only want the most current work we do. Many artists actually destroy their older pieces as if to remove evidence of what they’d done in the past. One artist friend was horrified by that idea, then added, “well, maybe if it’s really bad art!” But what if the work done in the past isn’t “bad”? Why should it be “forbidden” if we show or sell our earlier works because they are different than what we create today?

My mixed media steampunk style custom Painted Ponies wouldn’t have come through if it wasn’t for earlier years spent on collages and assemblages. The Trail of Painted Ponies Quarter Horse I created owes a nod to the 3D sculpted carousel horses I worked on before that. My sense of color derived from my stint as an oil painter and my feel for composition and design was enhanced by years of being an art director in the publishing world. Even my Love Rocks series borrows from my early art explorations.

Everything in the past somehow influences what gets applied into (or left out) of the newer work. When someone looks at a work of art and asks “how long did it take you to do that” the absolute truth is it took a whole lifetime to get to that point. Sure, an older work may not reflect as much or even look like the art of today, but they are our history and often represent big milestones that helped define our art. And a lot of it is still “good” art too! So, let’s buck the system. Artists shouldn’t be afraid of their older pieces. They deserve respect and I bet there are collectors who would love to see and even be thrilled to own a piece of our art history.

Even older art deserves good new homes.
Wouldn’t you agree?

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67 Responses to Artists aren’t “supposed” to do that!

  1. Very cool! Well put, Kathy!

  2. Thank you Brenda! It’s cool to see you here!

  3. sannekurz says:

    Definitely aged art deserves a great home! I mean: we started to give aged clothes a place in our wardrobes calling it vintage or recycling fashion…and art is really more than wine, where you can sense the change of taste a bit more than in fashion, no?
    I’m a film maker. My first pieces are about to turn 25. Nor very old in the art world. But still I can see the “paint flaking off”: the style around me and inside me changed, look and fashion changed, loves and likes changes, technical tools changed… I love the old!
    And the new.

  4. rapidpanda says:

    Yeah, that’s right. Even my paper drawings aren’t thrown away. They’re just there…

  5. yourejivingme says:

    Wow, that’s a whole new perspective for me.

    • Wow! Thanks for your comment! I’d been thinking about what to do with my older art as I’m not only trying to create space for more creativity and new art to emerge but more space physically in the studio as well. Think too much, write a blog, had no idea it’d be Freshly Pressed. I’m a little overwhelmed now! Ha! Thank you for popping in & commenting!

  6. jansmix says:

    Art, like life, is a journey, and just as we mature, out art matures, but i would never destroy old art, just like i would never destroy old memories, no matter how bad, because without either, how would we know how far we’ve come? How would we ever learn?

    • I was up late in the studio the other night going through all my old art and what you just wrote embodies a lot of what was going through my mind at the time. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  7. Val says:

    Good points. I’ve never known what my style would or ‘should’ be, I just go along and do what I feel I need to do at any one time. That said, I have thrown out art. My feeling is – I created it and until anyone sees it and enjoys it, it’s mine to do with as I please. I regard art that’s unwanted as being like a dish that’s badly cooked. Yeah – someone out there likes burnt food, someone out there likes dishes that have had too much salt put in it, but I wouldn’t feel right putting that on the table and offering it to people. It just wouldn’t feel right to me. I think it’s important that the creator of a work feels good about their creation.

    Your horses are beautiful, by the way. I particularly like the one with the armour. 🙂

    • You have good points too! I admire that you know yourself and what you believe in, including feeling good about your creation.

      Thank you for the compliment on my horses, I do particularly have a thing for armored horses! Thanks again for your comment and I hope you stop by again!

  8. kkarunita says:

    I agree Kathy ..but ‘old is gold’ !! re-blog/ re publish your old stuff.You seem to be a renowned artist, people would appreciate any kind of work put up by you.Good lck for everything in life.God bless.

  9. Every work of art, irrespective of the time it was crafted/painted/sculpted, deserves a place of itself in the world of artworks. It can never wane away with time. In fact every piece of art is reflective of the period in which it was created. Old is indeed gold! Well written!

  10. I cringe when I look at some of my older photographs, but you’re right, they helped me learn and become a better amateur photographer. It seems like the proverb “what is past is prologue” would really apply here.

    • I just found some old cringe worthy stuff here myself! They did serve their purpose and I learned from them but some of them are SO cringe worthy that unless I can cut out a portion to reuse in another piece I think they may be better off never to be seen again, ha-ha! Thank you for stopping by and have a great weekend!

  11. monkeymuesli says:

    very well said! i’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination… i failed to follow that calling a long time ago… but the stuff i created at school and uni still holds great significance for me and i could never part with it. to this day, every brush stroke and every wobble calls to mind how i was feeling at the time: teen heartbreak, discovering myself as an adult, my life in memories…

    i know storage is an issue for many artists, but oh my gosh hold onto it. besides, think how much those old pieces will be worth when you’re rich and famous?! ;0)

    • It’s amazing isn’t it – how when looking at our older work we instantly get transported to the times and feelings we were experiencing when we created them. When I went through my entire collection of older work, it was literally like reliving my life, seeing who I was in the past and the progression along the way.

      Storage IS an issue for me! I’m guilty of having saved EVERYTHING I’ve ever made and now realize I need to pare it down some to keep it to a more manageable level that doesn’t distract me as much. I’m working on the rich and famous part, ha! So hopefully I can sell some of the older pieces sooner than later! I appreciate you stopping by! Thank you again!

  12. l. richardson says:

    Do good….donate old art to a charitable cause. They are always looking for auction items and you may be good publicity from it.

    • Agreed. Donating art to charities can be a win-win for all involved and I’ve met amazing people and made new friends and collectors from around the world by doing so! I had just auctioned off a piece to help a group raising money for a worthy cause in Australia. Great people downunder!

  13. aloha Kathy – yes. i agree. furthermore – my past work is resource as well as documentation of my path.

    i can see why galleries want the new. however galleries are not in the gallery business because they are creators (altho they can be creative). they are in business because it’s business – money.

    destroying older work may be good for that business if it makes what remains more rare and by that more valuable. however to me what isnt accounted for is what destroying an artist’s work does to the artist.

    i suppose if an artist creates only for money that’s one thing. most artists i know are okay with money coming in from their art – but that is not what drives me to create in the best sense of the word create. and yes, i’m delighted when someone purchases my work. i will even create for a gallery if i have the freedom to do it my way – and they can decide not to show it – that’s their decision.

    i’m okay letting my work go to a new world – a new home. i like that. i like it when my work can stand up and be on it’s own in a world beyond where it was created. it has to be able to do that for a buyer to buy (imo), whether it is an institution, group, collector or individual. what they do with the work after that is up to them (for the most part). i hope my work can stand up to and survive in the world it goes into with that buyer.

    what i do with the work i still have, that is up to me (the way i see it). i value the path that has got me to where i am (exactly as you say – each work took all of my preceding life in order for me to be able to create it – that life time). re-examining that path through the points along the way (my work) opens up infinite possibilities for future work.

    resource – is one of the categories i think older work falls into. a long time ago i decided i would never (or rarely at least) tear pages out of my sketchbooks. because the sketchbook is the mine. a finished work is the gold. i’m okay parting with the gold. but i’m not giving up the mine or destroying it even if that would make the gold more valuable – it wouldnt – to me. and that older work – that is the same kind of resource.

    some older work still inspires me. sometimes looking back through sketchbooks i find i have forgotten a page of ideas – and it only comes up now because i can look at it. the same thing with older work can happen too – and now i may see new ways to interpret the work. or new solutions. it’s fun to go back and look at the different times i’ve worked around some object. or idea and where that may now lead to as now work or future work.

    and… what about collecting and artist not by a series we like – for instance your stone series you mentioned but by their path. a work that represents what you were doing ever 4 years of your life for instance. or 2 years. or each year. it might be quite interesting in the future to have that option.

    i can appreciate the space issue. i have very limited space. i also have a lot of older work. it’s that body of work that i enjoy adding to tho. and it’s interesting to me to see the path along which i have traveled, even if no one else is interested. …like you, i explore in a lot of different ways. each way contributes to all the others. i like that. and i’ll keep as much as possible for as long as possible.

    okay. rambling thoughts over. fun thinking about it tho. aloha.

  14. Reblogged this on Annabel's glassdesigns and commented:
    Do read this. It got me thinking about the first glassware I painted.

  15. Hi Kathy, I agree with you. I think all artists look back on our older works and can see how we have changed or improved our art but ya know I have both on my website, it is all part of me and it is amazing when you least expect it someone will spot a piecce and fall in love with it and buy it. It may not be one that you would think would sell but it meants something to them…so….I say just let people see and pick what they like, price it accordingly and all older art will eventually find it’s happy home.

  16. true art is always timeless…!

  17. oh my GOD your steampunk ponies are freaking amazing. the one with the watch parts is incredible!!!!!

  18. I just found my sketch books from high school – I will never throw them out.

  19. I have trouble getting rid of art that I did in the past, mainly because I don’t make any new pieces for lack of interest/talent/time, but I’ve learnt to say good-bye to pieces that felt painful to me, almost like writing down your emotions and then ripping the page. Great post, congrats on being freshly pressed!

  20. Baciagalupo says:

    I def agree: don’t destroy your old work. I think it helps you to keep track, to see where you come from. Also: look at authors. I love rereading ‘old books’ from my favorite authors, even if they have a completely different style in the present. Different does not necessarily mean bad, as you yourself also remarked. Difference is even necessary, if you ask me…

  21. brain4rent says:

    An organizer once said get rid of your photos; keep only up to three of any event. As a budding amateur photographer and the family photo historian,I find that really hard. But with the advent of digitalization, it is possible to keep a representation of the work if not the original piece.

  22. Oh wow! I really love your steampunk piece ‘time’! Its so beautiful…i couln’t take my eyes off it for several minutes! I can’t really talk of any old works, seen as i’m only budding now, at the very beginning of my way as an artist. But what I do know is that I keep all of my old sketchbooks and experiments, bacause I love watching progress and they all seem significant to where I stand now.

  23. Huh….I guess commercialism gets us all in the end, one way or another 🙂 I was writing about my ‘creative journey’ today, and although my work ends up as product rather than one offs, I have to accept that I was off the mark with some. Doesn’t mean I want to disown it. I totally agree with you about it all taking a lifetime. Every bit of it is a stepping stone to today, and what I do today is a stepping stone to tomorrow. But at the end of the day, we all have to eat and we make our decisions based on survival – even if that means bowing to pressure from external sources.

  24. voluntaryfiber says:

    Just say the old ones are new! Problem solved – you’re welcome!

    • I’m trying to be methodical and respond to my comments in the order I received them but yours just made me laugh out loud so I jumped ahead here!

      Sometimes simplicity is best, ha-ha! Thank you!

      • voluntaryfiber says:

        I didn’t mean to be flippant but it occurred to me dealers would have to take your word on it. Also, I meant to say your drawings are amazing!

      • I didn’t take it as being flippant, it immediately made me laugh, which I loved!! Thank you again for that and also for the compliment on my drawings!

  25. As a poet, I see how my own work has evolved. Its easier for a writer to keep older material due to not taking up so much physical space vs. a painter or sculptor. Still, as a person who majored in art history in college, I can tell you, some of the most interesting pieces of art to me were early pieces of Van Goghs and Picassos. Looking at how their work developed over time rounded out their evolution as incredible artists. So I say SAVE THEM. Screw galleries. They were filled with pot boilers back in the days and they will be filled with them now.

  26. bwhartwork says:

    Art just like in Life is a process and has it’s place. The past is what defines who we are and in your case defines what type of artist you are today.We all have to start somewhere in our journey and looking back from where we came from should help us appreciate where we are today and where we will be in the future. That being said I have thrown art away and I’m “OK” with it…keep moving forward is my motto! Love your post and your art!

  27. The extraordinary factor to artistic freedom is that the boundaries lie far and wide, and they only involve opinion. Excellent blog, I really enjoyed your insight. Keep up the good work. Please visit for information and disease prevention and healthy food and drink recipes.

  28. country girl says:

    I definitely agree! Who is to say that someone may not like your older work compared to your newer work!? If I was proud of my work back then, I would surely be proud of it now! I have a habit of keeping my old art. But I like to give my art out as gifts and I have sold a few pieces – so it works out! :]

  29. Samantha says:

    No one has a right to say you “aren’t supposed to do that”. Art is so subjective, you should be able to keep and be proud of your old works, and even be able to put it to use if only for gifts for friends or people who enjoyed your work in the past or even for galleries. Why do they even need to know if it was your older work? If it’s good work, it’s good work. Period. 🙂 Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  30. I’m glad I found this post. I’m an artist, and what I draw today and how I do it is really different from what I did in the past. I look at the old pieces and think to myself: “What should I do with these”. Most of them are still alive, somewhere in my room, almost forgot them. I did not throw them because I was afraid. Even though they are not as good as my new drawings, I remember being proud of myself when I drew them, back then. Also, I’m happy that I don’t draw the same today, it shows an evolution. The evolution of my skills and ideas and everything in it. After reading your post, I know now I should not destroy that history. I think it is important to show ourselves how our drawings evolved.

  31. Kathy, I SO agree with you! I could not part with my old art. It shows a progression in our art life. I think about all the art I gave away and sold and wish I had more of it. The few pieces I do have, I treasure.

  32. imegafon says:

    I am a freelance painter and dancer-choreographer, and I just went to The Munch Museum in Norway today. It was a great experience, and I can find myself experiencing that mostly when I visit the really big, national art galleries, it is not the famous paintings I enjoy the most. I have a love and attraction for kroquis, anything that is unfinished, anything that witnesses of a process, I find sketches and process work, tests even, more delicate and honest. Studies and final big works that are in full format are great too, but I am sososo weak for anything small that van give me a glimpse of the artist´s process, and I think that reflects in my work too. A lot of the time when I work on paintings, I should have stopped half through the work because it was just something that was better at that point.

  33. A creation must be respected

  34. My preferred method of art is the written word. I still have material I created in high school. Some of it is ATROCIOUS. But I keep it. I realize that keeping handwritten pages of paper is different than painted canvas, but I think there is always ways to keep it. Or sell it. Maybe this is taboo in the painting world, but galleries aren’t the only people in the world to buy art. I would think there is a market out there to sell your older work for people who are still into that particular aesthetic.

    I simply can’t imagine ever destroying anything I ever created. As you mentioned, it represents a moment in time for you. A lifetime to that point. We aren’t all Hemingway or Picasso, but can you imagine if THEY destroyed work that was a couple of years old?

  35. edgeledge says:

    The past makes us what we are now. It would be a crying shame to destroy what has brought to where you are now. Artists and others who have a physical link to their journey should keep it if room permits.

  36. Jennifer Temple says:

    I KEEP EVERYTHING, I never date my works, just my signature. Gallery curators are not artists. Personally, I won’t deal with them. Remember, if we made any kind of name while living, ALL OUR WORKS BECOME IMPORTANT WHEN WE ARE DEAD! (Gee, thanks) So I say it is a good idea, at the very least, to keep representative pieces for all of your styles and periods. If old art is not acceptable we can toss Picasso, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and heaven forbid it, the whole Wyeth family!
    I now fully understand my life truly does depend on being able to exercise my creative compulsion. It is what gives my life purpose. Art is almost my religion in that once engrossed in a work I do not experience time, hunger, tiredness or thought. All I am aware of is the project in front of me and if I’m lucky, a tremendous joy upon completion of a work. It would not matter if in my entire life I never sold an other painting, it would not make my efforts worth any less and I in any case, it is not a choice.
    What I do is not necessarily “Art”, but what ever it is, I need to do it.. Some efforts border on craft, others begin to approach fine art, a lot is simply Blue Box material. I have worked in a variety of capacities in theatre and film; I have produced prints for bookbinders and for framing, my formal painting work is in water color, graphite, oil paint or India ink. I have no particular style or subject matter; I use what ever media and method the work seems to demand. I have even repeated works in a variety of materials and continue to do so until I get it “right”.

    • Jennifer Temple says:

      P.S.: As a By-the-way, I am now 56 years old, no “spring chicken” in this game. I will never get “rich” for want of bowing to the powers that be: what I did, and do get, is a rich life. I like the freedom of going it alone. My great fear has always been getting trapped into endlessly repeating a given type of work. Every show where I sell a few pieces, I think, “Ah, they like that, I should do more of that!” Good grief, if I’d become famous it no doubt would have turned into a Trish Romance and my art into production as I kept producing “saleable” works. I doubt it would have remained art. Thus, I am grateful for the freedom of anonymity.

  37. Snakehair says:

    Eh… personally, I painted gesso over all the paintings I hated and started over. It’s like they were watching me… they were all saying “Look. This is your art. Do you really want your name on my mediocre face?” Of course I don’t! So I painted over them and made something better. They’re smiling now

  38. cartoonmick says:

    I painted over much of my old work, and this is all now collecting dust in the back of a wardrobe.

    I realized I wasn’t going to become rich or make money as an artist, so I changed to cartoonist.

    I’m still not rich, or making much money, but it is more fun (see my blog).

  39. belleatisuto says:

    I used to burn my art a lot. I didn’t know why I kept doing that, but I guess it’s a bit symbolic. I keep most of my art now, mainly because I want to leave something about me behind.

  40. Blood-Ink-Diary says:

    What a lovely journey you have embarked upon! Cheers.

    • Thank you! I visited your blog and love how you pair your writings with your art. It looks like you have embarked on a lovely journey yourself!! Your mention of ashes in one of your posts immediately made me think of the Phoenix. It seems I’ve been running into Phoenix references quite a bit lately! Keep renewing and flying!

  41. wannadoart2day says:

    I still sell art that is up to 20 years old. People like work with age, they really do. It is part of an artist’s story and has merit for that. If you look at Contemporary Art you may see what I mean. See seaside village, 1996, ‘Landscapes’ page.
    The original drawings to plan my children’s book ‘Sroobious Lock and the Circle of Light are well over 10 years old.
    Art from the past has a validity born of age.

  42. artoftamara says:

    I love the question posed, although for one brief moment in reading your article I have to admit I felt there could be a feeling of freedom of releasing some of the past, of clearing out some of the old to make way for the new. I’m feeling that with most things in life this calls for balance. Keep the best , the milestone pieces. And allow yourself to let go of the rest. Show the markers of the journey you are on. Let go of enough so you can continue to journey on unincomberd. This advice is intended toward myself as a response to your words. We all need to decide what’s best for ourselves. I love the question

    • Thank you for your comment and especially for what you said — “I have to admit I felt there could be a feeling of freedom of releasing some of the past, of clearing out some of the old to make way for the new.” Wait, I take that back — actually your ENTIRE comment applies very well to me too! You pretty much nailed much of what I’ve been thinking about here in the studio lately. Thank you so much for stopping by and for YOUR words!

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