When Does Art Become Clutter?

January 9, 2010

This past fall I attended a friend’s art opening.  During the reception I had the opportunity to chat with another friend of the artist, who asked if I had been to the artist’s studio.  When I said, “No,” he described with amazement the multitude of paintings and other artwork our mutual friend was storing there. 

This got me to thinking.  How many of us have paintings and other artwork leaning against walls or stored in closets that no one ever sees?  After a while, don’t these canvases become clutter? 

My dear friend Cara is an artist (www.caramayo.com).  Her work is beautiful, as you can see from the photos I have attached.   She exhibits her paintings at various venues, but only a small number sell.  The remainder goes back to her home studio, waiting for the right purchaser to come along. 

Creation vs. Outcome

When does art become clutter?  Why do artists keep creating and creating, often with little space to store their work?  The answer, I believe, lies in the creation process, rather than the outcome.  Creating pottery, knitting a sweater, making jewelry are all engrossing.  One might say, “I am making this item for myself, for a friend or to make money,” but the more compelling reason is because the artist can create something unique, personal, and meaningful.  It is an inspired creation.

What happens when the artist has made so many items that aren’t sold, gifted or donated?  Don’t they become clutter?

My Own Experience with Artwork

My great uncle was a well-known artist in his day.  He illustrated short stories for Someret Maugham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others like them (an example is shown to the left).  His illustrations appeared in now-defunct magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s Magazine.  When my mother died, I inherited 10 of his illustration-paintings.  Living in a small apartment prevented me from hanging all of them in my home.  In addition, their motif didn’t fit my décor.  What was I going to do with them?

I held on to them for 10 years not knowing quite what to do.  As I began to learn about clutter and its implications, I decided to take action.  In the end I auctioned a number of my uncle’s works through an auction house. 

But the debate of whether to keep or sell them went on for awhile.  Questions like, “Am I selling off the equivalent of the family jewels?” or “Am I being disrespectful to my dead uncle and even my mother if I sell these paintings?” commingled my thoughts.  The other side of the debate countered, “No one can appreciate these paintings in my closet!”  “It would be nice to get money for his work.” 

Another thought also popped up.  What if I move to a bigger home?  I would have more space to display these paintings.  If I sell them and if I move, what happens then?  If, if, if…this is the operative word.   Many years have passed, and I haven’t moved.  Was it a good decision to sell the paintings?  In my opinion, yes!

Creating Space (to Create)

You may have a similar dilemma.  If your repository of artwork is full, you might want to consider the implications it has on your creativity.  Without a place to store her paintings, my friend Cara has limited space to do her work.  I suspect it stifles her creativity.  Where is the space for her to flex her creative muscle when it’s filled with finished canvases? 

Some might answer, “Get a bigger studio!”  Aside from finding another place, it doesn’t answer the question of what to do with the finished canvases.  Even if she moved her working space to a bigger studio, her finished stored paintings would still take up her psychic space.  Or if she got storage space, eventually she would need more.   Eventually—it always comes down to this—she needs to make a decision.  When does she let go of those pieces she can’t find room to display or when no one else wants to display them either?

Making Decisions

When an artist finishes a piece of work, it can feel like she has put a part of herself on the canvas or into the jewelry, sculpture or whatever chosen craft.  To not get it into the hands of someone who will value it may feel like rejection.  To destroy it could feel destroying a part of oneself. 

The focus comes back to the act of creating.  This is what brings the artist joy (and frustration), excitement and growth.  Once the paintings or other items start stacking up, the artist must ask some critical questions:  What am I going to do with this stuff?  Will I let it become clutter in a storage bin?  Am I going to donate, display or destroy it?  Whatever the question, it must to be answered and acted upon.  Otherwise, you’ve got clutter and, as intangible as this may seem, you are hampering your intangible, invaluable creativity!

Please note:  All paintings, except my uncle’s, have been reproduced with the permission of the artist, Cara Mayo.

One Response to “When Does Art Become Clutter?”

  1. Sylaen Says:

    This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

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