Prior disappointment syndrome


Dear Artist,

Artists with integrity and high standards can fall prey to a particularly nasty condition. It’s called “Prior disappointment syndrome.”

Failed works of art and even disappointing passages, particularly recent ones, can haunt and disarm your current work. You may have noticed when returning from a holiday, you sometimes paint freshly and well for a few days and then the old decay sets in. If you’ve ever experienced this situation, I’m here to help you understand why the decline happens and what you can do about it. When you’re returning from that holiday, you’ve actually been temporarily energized because you’ve not recently experienced failure. This gives a clue to the “fresh slate” and “beginner’s mind” approach to creativity.

You need to drop into short-term thinking and to live in the now. This may seem a bit trendy, but it’s been my observation that highly realized artists have a knack for getting into the now and thereby achieving regular renewal and a clearer creative path — a state of mind that sidesteps potential historical burdens.

History, when we admit it, often holds the evidence of failure. You need to get rid of the evidence, both mental and physical, by putting prior failures to the wall or shredding them. “See no evil,” is the motto. Look only at what you consider your better stuff. Otherwise, the stealthy voice of inner doubt will get a hearing.

For some artists the syndrome causes so much anxiety that panic sets in and work can grind to a halt. One way to beat the problem is to angrily change some processes and give yourself a major shakeup. As well, bouts of physical exercise, like mini-holidays, can also be used to re-jig systems.

The operative game is to take charge of your mind and drop into a state of confident, audacious and untroubled flow. You’ll know it when it happens because it’s almost goofy. Every stroke seems a new experience. It requires a sort of reverse thinking, and unless you happen to be a reverse-minded genius, it’s learned. This may sound nuts, but believe me, for seasoned, demanding artists, this goofyness is right up there with stuff like perspective, negative areas and the difference between warm and cool.

Best regards,


PS: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” (Dalai Lama) “Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” (Coco Chanel)

Esoterica: Books have been written on the value of failure and the lessons to be gleaned from disappointment. Creators like Leonardo, Edison and Steve Jobs depend on their repeated failures to get to their successes. While artists can certainly learn from their own and other’s failures, the joyous, daily production of art has further parameters. Perceived prior failures dampen or jinx current successes. Flush your losers. Think in the now. As Henry Ford said, “History is bunk.”


‘History is bunk’ is bunk
by Martin B

An article on LRC today mentions “The Mother of All Misrepresented Quotes,” Henry Ford‘s “History is bunk.” I want to expand on that. A fuller quote is, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.” — 1916.


Attachments of being
by Isa-Manuela Albrecht, Ebmatingen, Switzerland

Not everybody is able to look neither in past nor future. Very often people are drifting away from reality and living in a dangerous and abstract world. My old teacher Jean Klein told me always, “Isa, have a look what you are not.” This helped me to stay aware of my own attachments of being, instead of becoming empty and not having too much identification with “I am” and “I have.”


Feelings resolved; painting finished
by Jackie Strickland, Brunswick, GA, USA

Reading this must have been a coincidence. Last week I pulled out a painting I’d given up on twenty years ago. I had kept it for sentimental reasons. Well, I just finished it! This gives me hope for the other seventeen. I teach, and I tell my students all the time, “There’s no such thing as a bad painting — it’s just an ‘unfinished painting.’ ” I’ve gessoed over some canvases, I’ve trashed some, but those ‘starts’ that are really close to my heart, I keep. Another insight about this particular painting is that the negative emotions I had for the subject matter at that time, have recently, finally been resolved.

(RG note) Thanks, Jackie. I’m afraid there are “bad paintings.” I know because I’ve made hundreds of them. They’re toast and will never be seen. There’s a difference between a sentimental favorite and a bad painting. Getting rid of the ones you personally feel to be bad is one of the best things you can do to get good on your own terms.


Rejected paintings can be winners
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA


“Good Morning October”
watercolour painting
by Jan Ross

A couple of thoughts came to mind after reading your letter regarding Prior Disappointment Syndrome. First, sometimes ‘switching to the left side’ of the brain by doing mundane tasks such as housekeeping, washing the car, yard work, balancing the checkbook, etc. gives our creative side a mental vacation. I’ve found these trips less expensive and just as worthwhile as an actual holiday away from my drawing board. No security checks, baggage claims or chatty passengers to deal with, either.

Secondly, works we may consider failures, may not really be after all. Those of us who still enjoy entering juried shows may have what I call a ‘virgin’ painting. It’s never been seen outside the studio but I decide to take a chance and enter it in a show. The sting of the rejection letter initially makes me feel a bit foolish, but upon a second try, I’ll receive an award in a different show! If I’d depended solely on the opinion of the first juror, the painting may have ended up in my personal ‘filing cabinet.’ How often have we entered 3 paintings in a juried exhibition to discover the one we least thought would get in, is the one the judge selects? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so can a failed painting… look again!


Physical Evidence of Failure
by Jill Charuk, Vancouver, BC, Canada


oil painting
24 x 12 inches
by Jill Charuk

I refer to this as P.E.O.F (Physical Evidence of Failure). This means the keeping of lousy paintings in your view or even in your possession. Get rid of the stuff, send it to new homes. A constant daily reminder of unsold work only erodes the fragile yet mighty ego of the artist. Give away, burn or paint it a nice cadmium red.






Unexpected sell-out
by Gavin Calf, Cape Town, South Africa


“Gold high heels”
oil painting
by Gavin Calf

2007 was a bad year for my art career. I was rejected by two major art forums being: Grahamstown Arts Festival and the Spier Contemporary Art Competition. In January this year, after a gift trip to Egypt, which was fabulous, my wife and I sat together to work out how we were going to make it without me making any money as an artist. The telephone rang and next, I had sold all my available works to a gallery near Johannesburg straight away.

A month before this happened I had stripped six paintings from their stretchers, all nude paintings which cost us modeling fees at about six sessions per painting. Michelangelo said, “If the wine is not good, then throw it out!” This led him to strip a whole section of the Sistine Chapel he was working on at the time. Read The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. When the gallery owner and her husband took time to travel down to Cape Town to meet me, the rejected canvases were returned by my canvas maker and newly stretched. That I was able to be non-precious about my paintings impressed them immensely. In April I was invited to the 7th Biennale di Firenze in December 2009.


Don’t think it all away
by Audrey Bunt, Prince Edward Island, Canada

I am, yet again, being revisited by the creative block, not so much because of the work that is not up to snuff, but looking at the better work and thinking, “Did I do that?” and “How did I do that?” Then when I start to analyze and break them down, all the flow is up and gone scared away and you are left staring at a blank canvas thinking, “I need another cup of tea!” Mary Pratt said, “Don’t think it all away.” I’m thinking that she is right.


Clearing the way for open spaces
by Alicia Chimento, New Jersey, USA

Just last week I cleared out my studio of all the old paintings, including work that I’ve recently showed but doesn’t reflect what I’m doing now. It was so freeing to have that clean slate, with just a small wall area to compare, critique and ponder work in progress. Nothing at all on the walls but open space, light coming through previously curtained windows, and floor cleared of all other assorted piles of stuff. The peace of having nothing but the present in front of me really does allow me to move forward without the distractions of the past. This process of simplifying my surroundings, including those of where I live, is what I need in my life right now. It was also the best thing I have done for my art in a long time.


First breath of a dream
by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA

Failure has gotten a bad rep because of semantics. It is how we understand it that counts. Failure is an integral part of the process and it is inevitable. Our universal friend, the Dalai Lama says to not DWELL in the past … dwell, live, reside … that is a phrase connoting long-term. Don’t stay there. He didn’t say, “Do not experience the past.”

That trendy thought about concentrating the mind has been trendy for a long time. Focus is genius, plain and simple. It is also joy, peace and passion. Hanging onto failure serves no one. Is there comfort there? Maybe for fleeting moments. Is there fear of letting go of it because it means we must dip our brushes into the paint pot and give it another go? What is so fearful about that? Ah, is there a need to be perfect underlying it all? What’s the fun in being perfect? I’ve never cared much for it … Perfection is for nature who teaches us that it’s all perfect. The important thing is to paint, stitch, compose — and dream. The dreaming comes before all, but you cannot dwell within your dreams. You must act on dreams to make them breathe. That first breath is joyful.


Distortion of the NEW
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


pastel painting, 15 x 19 inches
by Paul deMarrais

We painters often fall prey to the question of what is new and what is old. Our culture favors the new and the young and worships this period of youth as the ultimate in beauty. What is ‘new ‘ to me is the painting I am working on today. Anything stacked around the studio is ‘old’ even if done a week ago. Old paintings tend to pick up a bad smell to them as they age. Galleries reinforce this distortion. “When are you bringing in NEW paintings?” As soon as I enter the door these “new” paintings are becoming “old.” We have to guard ourselves against this syndrome. Some of the new work could stink and some of the old paintings could be strong and enduring in quality. We have to hold on to our objectivity. Bad paintings should be destroyed as part of a periodic cleansing. I try to be philosophic about it. I gave it a good effort and take comfort in that effort… but I failed. Oh well. Failure is part of the process. Failure is a constant companion of the painter so we must learn to be comfortable with him. Our pastor spoke the other day about spiritual “turnaround,” that no matter how dark or hopeless the situation our faith can turn it around. Artists need that concept of faith. We will all have bad spells or creative block but through faith, effort and persistence we will break through and produce decent paintings once more. We must have faith that one day we’ll produce that really great painting that is the best we are capable of doing.


What to do with ugly work
by Stephanie Quinn, Dallas, TX, USA

Although I am not a professional artist at this point, I am trying to get my degree done in school. There are moments when I do not have time to get in my studio to do my art. (I am left with doing my academic classes now). So unlike being energized after vacations, I have periods when I know I have not practiced and will fail when I get back to work, and know this will cause me to not want to continue at times. I am now at the stage where I realize that “practicing” and “discipline” are my friends and I need to fit them in my schedule. But what to do with the ugly work is interesting because I was taught to SAVE everything. Now I think I know what to do with it. Destroy it and put it in or work in into other works of art.


The Creative Habit
by Sonia Gadra, Frederick, MD, USA

Everyone has to take a turn having prior disappointment syndrome. It’s part of the deal as an artist. How to handle it is the key to overcome. I’ve just finished reading the book The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp which was mentioned recently in one of your letters. Artists of any genre have to go through the rituals of preparation. After a holiday from any routine you are energized and eager to get back in the groove but the rut is certain to come back eventually if you don’t identify what isn’t working and why. Building that bridge to the next day is very important. Twyla Tharp’s excellent book opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and gave me a big boost.


Process of change — failure
by Patty Ryan

Every night while you sleep deeply, your brain goes about reorganizing itself, deleting things you don’t use any more, changing circuits, updating priorities, making itself more efficient to support the needs of today. The brain that you woke up with this morning is not the brain you painted with yesterday. The world around you has changed; you have changed. Take a deep breath and exult in your new opportunities. Unexpected failures are Life offering you a lesson you didn’t think to ask for. What don’t you like about the work? The design? The execution? Here’s a chance to work on that, with a clear-cut example you’ve created of something you don’t want. I like what Robert Burridge says, that we paint to teach ourselves to paint, not to do stuff we already know how to do. We need to appreciate everything we do, failures included, because it’s all part of the process of becoming what we want to be.


Recycling paintings
by James Gielfeldt, Welland, ON, Canada


graphite drawing
by James Gielfeldt

I tend to paint over my less successful pieces or pieces that just haven’t sold for whatever reason and the value in this is two-fold. One, it is recycling at its best and two, I actually prefer to paint over an old painting, to the point that when I do start a new canvas I will paint something I have no intent in keeping on the pure white canvas. I find it much nicer to work on these ‘used’ canvasses after priming over the first piece often with a tinted primer coat. It’s almost like a little warm up exercise to get the creative and artistic juices flowing.


Lean times
by Sheila Norgate, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada


“Fly dog”
acrylic painting, 24 x 24 inches
by Sheila Norgate

I am finding that sales in my Canadian galleries have slowed like never before. I just had a show in my Utah gallery where nothing sold–a first in my career. I have spoken with a few other artists as well as some of my dealers, and I am hearing that this slow-down is pretty much across the board. Since misery loves company, there is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. Still… it’s difficult to keep the faith (and pay the bills). I was wondering if you had any observations or comments about these matters… and also, of course, any advice about how to weather the storm of lean times.

(RG note) Thanks, Sheila. During my life as a painter there have been dozens of ups and downs. The downs are often down for about two years, but the ups can be up for longer. The general softness has not hit Canada too badly, the USA is really soft in many areas, Europe is for the most part steady. I was talking to a couple of dealers today, and they mentioned softness due to standard summer doldrums, but expect better things in the fall. Remember that decorative art tends to rise and fall with the value of real estate, while investment art often rises during times when other investments don’t. Advice–don’t worry, beat the problem by improving quality. There’s a sale for quality in all seasons. Depressions and recessions are the times to paint important work. Keep busy while you’re waiting for something to happen.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Prior disappointment syndrome



From: D F Gray — Aug 18, 2008

the lesson here is….don’t take holidays

From: Shana — Aug 18, 2008

I think the lesson is that every day, every hour, every second IS a vacation and should be enjoyed as a fresh new start.

From: e citraro — Aug 18, 2008

I agree with the concept but heartily disagree with the instruction to “shred” failures – as an instructor and colleague I have seen so many pieces needlessly destroyed out of a moment’s lack of confidence, when all you actually need to do is nail them up in a sealed box for 20 years and you will be amazed how much better those “failed” pieces look then. I personally feel there just isn’t enough art in the world, and all of it doesn’t need to be a great masterpiece to have value and provide someone pleasure, even if it isn’t the artist who made it! Don’t trash your pieces! Someone, somewhere might really appreciate it!

From: Maggie — Aug 18, 2008

Robert, your thoughts on fear of failure are very relevant. I have just been awarded my doctorate, and if I had thought about it in the beginning, would never have done it. A fresh start every day – and your letters – kept me going to a successful conclusion. As Fabian Duttner said; “Failure is always hurtful, humiliating and embarrassing, but it’s the price to pay for daring to get what we want out of life”. Good painting . . .

From: Greg Rapier — Aug 19, 2008

Failure is a word that can cause a person to miss out on the best things in life if it is seen in fear. But if failure is seen as like going down the wrong road and as a way to learn the right path to success and all you have to do is turn around. Then failure is turned into a very valuable tool. Most people think Babe Ruth very seldom struck out. But in fact he struck out far more times than he hit a homer. Most famous people failed a lot more than they succeeded. So failure dosn’t mean we are failures it only means that way didn’t work so lets see what does.

From: Maggie Bandstra — Aug 19, 2008

I agree with much of what you said, however Some of my what I thought were my biggest failures were others favorite pieces. Once I painted a new painting over an old one I disliked a woman who had seen it. She called me and wanted to purchase it. I told her I painted over it and she bought that one because she knew the painting she liked was under it. So I say sell the failures if you can. Everyone sees your work in their own way. Do what you love and let the others go. Keep painting, and keep showing, and see what happens is my philosophy.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Aug 19, 2008

No matter if you really like a piece, or not, pitch it in the corner and start the next one. A friend painted a very successful image, kept it prominently displayed, and basically quit painting for quite a while.

Perhaps that’s why someone else said, “The minute you finish a piece, get rid of it! If it’s bad, it’ll drag you down, if it’s great, you’ll just sit there looking at it.”

From: Frank Hills — Aug 19, 2008


Right on target..I needed this message NOW!

Thank you

From: Joseph Bush — Aug 19, 2008

Yes, I find that all that is said is true. However, I find that I do get really disappointed with the drudgery of marketing…it seems that EVERYONE has the right answers (especially the webmasters), but after 15 years, 11 Galleries, numerous outdoor and indoor shows, that the overwhelming negative influence on my painting is so pervasive…the last time I ordered frames or supplies, they didn’t take smiles or positive thoughts in trade. So, my question is this. Just what IS the key to my painting career?

From: sittingbytheriver — Aug 19, 2008

I fear making art. I fear marketing it. I fear showing it. I fear selling it.

I’ve been making art for 20 years, but I still have those same fears.

From: Joyce Barker — Aug 19, 2008

I can really relate to this last letter. I’ve been painting recently, after a summer break, and I am very disappointed. I doubt if I can “save” it. I regret not keeping in touch with my creative self. I’ve learned that you must do even a minimum of art. What’s the saying? “Use it or lose it”.

From: Marie B. Pinschmidt — Aug 19, 2008

My happiest sales are of paintings I have left to “mature” in my inventory, often paintings that were born several years earlier. We cannot second guess our audience, nor can we paint in order to fulfill a popular trend. I paint for the love of the subject at the time, and rely on time to find the perfect buyer. If my creative juices dwindle to a trickle, I find another way to temporarily fill the void. (I alternate between painting and writing.) At the proper time, the urge to paint will return full force. We can have it both ways.

From: Consuelo — Aug 19, 2008

A holiday may provide a spark to creativity and quality but I find that a good, effective workshop instructor that gets the creative juices flowing is worth their weight in gold.

From: Julie — Aug 19, 2008

This is true.

But it can also cut the other way. I have just completed a painting that I personally am very satisfied with. I struggled with it and hated it along the way, and now that’s it’s done, I have to admit that it is particularly good. One of my favorites, as a matter of fact. (if there is such a thing as a “favorite”)

Anyway, my problem now is that I’ve started on a new painting. I’m at the ugly, raw beginning stages, and I’m extremely dissatisfied. Fresh off of that success, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to duplicate it. I’ve decided to step away for the evening and pick up the paint brush tomorrow, and try to look at my work with more optimistic eyes.

From: Bob Posliff, Brampton, Ontario — Aug 19, 2008

This has nothing to do with art, but with terminology. When you say ‘holiday’ might you mean ‘vacation’ ? ‘Holidays’ are statutory and are one day. I know this sounds picky but grammar is important to me. We owe it to the many cultures trying to learn our very complicated English language, to use it correctly.

The misplaced word ‘not’ happens often, e.g. ‘All is not well in Canada’ was the recent headline of a prominent Canadian journalist. We know that’s not true. Lots is well in Canada. What he meant was ‘Not all is well in Canada’. That’s true.

And look for the number of times a sentence is ended with a preposition.

As an architect, I am acutely aware of the importance of communication being understood. Life safety may be at risk.

From: Jennifer — Aug 21, 2008

Bob! I think I love you! It’s not often I run into someone who loves grammar as I do. If I weren’t already married to my soulmate…

From: Jim van Geet — Aug 21, 2008

” Success builds confidence, failure builds character “

From: John Ferrie — Aug 21, 2008

To me, anxiety is about change. I never fear change and actually welcome it when it comes. Listening to that whisper and moving in a new direction is the essence of being truly creative. We are always trying to grasp a time, place or person in our lives and hold it in that spot that we are most comfortable with. Everyone is your teacher and not letting your life be ruled by fear is my mantra. Artists always seem to lay back on their laurels and think their latest piece is their greatest piece. I suspect they also might fear it is their last. You see this a lot in art school with students becoming very defensive about their works during a critique. I know that the bulk of the greatest work of my life is still ahead of me. I have always thought this and probably always will. I also know I can always be better…with every single brush stroke, I can be better.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Aug 22, 2008

“Artists always seem to lay back on their laurels and think their latest piece is their greatest piece.” John, from where on Earth did you get that idea? I always sigh, and say, “I’m learning and the next one will be better.”

Perhaps critiques are undiplomatic, or too much thinly disguised criticism, the hurtful kind. Students, the new ones and young ones anyway, might be very fragile. Plus, I remember going from being the very best artist of thousands of people, in high school, to being with a large group of peers, in college. That was a shock.

And now, if you judge art by money, there’s some amazing stuff making a lot of money. Stuff.

From: Ted Pankowski — Aug 22, 2008

Re: Churchill’s “perfection”! Some would say it takes 20 years and 100 brush-miles miles of canvas to become a good painter. But I don’t think this means painting for 20 years on the same canvas. Winston, I think you did fine by not letting ” perfection be the enemy of the good.”

From: Toni Ciserella — Aug 22, 2008

I would have to say that everything I’ve ever painted is a disappointment. Not once have I ever loved a piece of work that I’ve done. I’ve loved some part of it but have always felt let down when it is done. In many cases the let down comes before it’s finished and I set it aside. In some cases I have so many disappointing work lying around I invite guests, family members and friends to take whatever they want just so I do not ever have to set eyes on them again (the paintings not the guests- although sometimes both). Sometimes, especially of late, I wonder why I continue to cause myself so much grief. It’s like there is this angst in me to paint and yet it’s only a temporary fix. Nothing seems to relieve it. I will take your advice Robert and try to focus on the now because feeling goofy sounds a heck of a lot more fun than disappointed.

From: Vincent — Aug 22, 2008

To Kathy Neudorf. Your destruction as a painter only exists in your head. Guess what would it take to get rid of it? Just a thought.

From: ydf21 — Aug 23, 2008

A group painting “The eternal lotus” and the Chinese contemporary art

Over the last decades, China’s political leaders seem to be enlightened a lot. In today’s Beijing, you can not only see the US film, but also see the performance by Western pop singers; you can not only read the 10-year Cultural Revolution’s accusatory novel, namely “The Bathing Woman,” but also see the 798 Art District, displayed Contemporary Art Works — it often tends to be a symbol of Chinese reformation and China’s social progress in the eyes of the Western media.

However, Mr. Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun can live in Beijing, because the authorities deliberately gave them a chance. Weighed the pros and cons of Contemporary Art, they found the official ideology has not been challenged, and it’s impossible to shake the leading position of the official artists. Reservation of 798 Art District can not only improve the government’s public image, it also becomes a visiting sight. And all this are under control.

In fact, at present, these famous contemporary artists have been very “self-discipline” and grinding out their edges to make it match official’s mainstream. It’s not just the way of living, but also the precondition for achieving commercial value. Oriental wisdom has really made these contemporary artists succeed, while they have kept themselves away from artistic aim.

In 1998, artist’s metamorphosis is an indisputable fact that eager attitude for quick success and instant benefit toward life and the commercial temptation without restraint changed their mind. In June 2008, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite TV comments: the 798 Art District filled with the smell of copper. The international community, who was keen on contemporary Chinese art collections, has begun criticized, saying that they pay much attention to cater to foreigner’s value with the result that loses their own personality. With the increasing emphasis on the 798 Art District and Songzhuang Art District, officials support and guide them consciously or unconsciously, so their creative environment has changed greatly. Some artists have faced what course to follow.

However, this is not all the Chinese contemporary art. Recently, a group of paintings called “” quietly appeared in China’s magazines and the Internet. These paintings are more than 50 pieces, from 1989 to now experiencing the past 20 years. Although the works relate to traditional Chinese themes of the Flowers and Birds Painting (painting plant is the most common and important themes of Chinese paintings since ancient times), A group painting “The eternal lotus” is the style of contemporary art.

The painter applied prosopopoeia to his works, mobilized the shape, color, composition, and so on, creating an image of bloody battlefield and heroes died ungrudgingly. Lotus in nature is like Fairy, in poetry is the embodiment of gentleman, but in “The eternal lotus” group are the unyielding Warriors.

The author recalls his creative ideations, said:

In the late spring in 1989, I was learning Flowers and Birds Painting in the Central Academy of Fine Arts (plants painting). After the Tiananmen event, having the feeling of pathos, I created these works in those bloody days; I would like to record the feelings of this period of history. In 1990, eight paintings had created and exhibited in Beijing Wangfujing Street Gallery, named bloody Lotus. At that time Beijing was still in a state of siege, in order to avoid political persecution; the exhibition had to change the name. A few years after, the name “”The eternal lotus” ” replaced it.

As the themes of “The death of lotus” paintings are all plant material, so they can evade official checkup, but people who understood Chinese culture and were familiar with the Tiananmen Square event are aware of the intention of the group painting “The eternal lotus “. That’s why “The death of lotus” is neither prohibited nor for the publicity. It can be said that “The death of lotus” is the only painting works which reflected the theme of the June 4th events on Chinese continent over the past 20 years.

From: Sharon Williams — Aug 26, 2008

Virginia Cobb, a well-known artist whose workshop I attended, had a good concept for dealing with pieces of art that did not seem to be going well (according to the artist). She told us to view paintings as infants, children, teenagers, adults to remind us that many paintings need to evolve before we would be satisfied with the results.

I applied this to my work consistently. Paintings that were not progressing to my satisfaction or ones I felt were ‘unfinished’ all went into a large portfolio. I did not need a pile of work that had been frustrating me in any way in my line of vision; they were immature, waiting to grow up.

From time to time, I would go through the portfolio, sometimes finding elements useless as their originally intended result, that had a dramatic effect when used in different ways in another painting.

Two feeble, dull pieces, when cut, then woven together, became the foreground for an excellent collage piece. The background for the collage was a completely ‘failed’ sheet of watercolour paper. Sprayed over with metallic paint in a subtle pattern, it became an ideal base.

The paint was barely dry before I had a buyer begging to own it.

Recently, a knowledgeable friend looked through the ‘unfinished’ contents of the portfolio. She found at least a dozen paintings that were ready to frame and sell. I could then see others that had a direction I was unable to see when I worked on them originally.

The original ‘core idea’ for a painting may not be amenable to either the media the artist has picked or the ground it is painted on. The artist’s ego must let go of preconceived ideas about what he/she proposes to

impose on matter intended to become a piece of what the artist considers as art.

Throwing away or destroying art in progress or ‘finished’ just because it does not please the eye of one person (the artist) is very egotistical; the act denies that anyone else (including potential buyers) might have a different view as valid as that of the artist. From experience, I have come to believe that my own view of my art is not as reliable as the collective comments of others.

As I mature and experience life, my vision and imagination change with me, allowing me to compare my current choices and techniques with older work. In some cases, this has led to the ability to complete paintings formerly viewed as ‘failed’. Previous ‘failures’ were simply due to my lack of experience or need to learn one or more new techniques or experiment with new media (which may not have existed when the painting was begun).

Take a look at your ‘failures’ from a different point of view. Go to a workshop to learn a few new techniques and then review ‘failed’ work. Listen to knowledgeable people who can spot the pieces that are actually finished before you mess them up permanently by over-working.

You may be turning out better work than you thought or may have the materials almost ready to finish a really fine piece of work. Have a little faith in time and yourself.

From: Sharon Williams — Aug 26, 2008

I agree that there are a lot of truly “bad paintings” around that I would be embarrassed to show if I had done them. I see people buying them for hideous sums and shudder.

The only type I find offensive are the ‘starving artist’ exhibitions where paintings have been created on an assembly line. These cannot be considered as anything other than ‘art by committee’. That is my opinion, not a general pronouncement of contempt for all of the efforts. A few are done by people with true talent.

But, who are we as individuals to set ourselves as the appointed arbiters of ‘art’. Art, to any individual, is what speaks to them or initiates an emotional attachment to the image. If that image is right for them, it is good art to them. It might also be all they can afford at that time.

However, artists who are working at art as a full-time career can’t afford to set themselves up as sole judge and jury of their own work. An artist sees and knows every ‘mistake’ and brushstroke that did not live up to their inflated expectations of their view of perfection.

Pursuing “perfection” in art is destructive to the spirit and imagination of genuine art. Personally, I get past this negative self-structuring confining ‘box’ by putting a flaw into each painting as early as possible. Once done, I feel ‘freed’ and the rest of the painting is then free to flow out. Oddly, the mark previously viewed as a ‘flaw’ usually ends up working itself into the piece and enhancing it.

The downs of life are as important as the ups. If an artist feels that destroying a piece of art is the only way they can feel better about themselves, by all means, get rid of it or at least get it out of your line of vision for a significant period of time.

I know fine artists with talent who have destroyed all of their work that they considered imperfect. These people often feel that they have ‘lost’ their ability to produce any art and stop trying to the point of getting rid of all of their art supplies. Depression often ensues.

My remedy for this is to buy them just enough art supplies to put them in a position where they cannot say they have nothing to work with. I say nothing more and wait for their innate hunger to express themselves becomes so great that they start to play with the materials.

They will probably discard a lot at the beginning but I encourage them to keep their early efforts, often showing them my own collection from truly primitive to what they see displayed on my walls. My acceptance of my own ‘child’ paintings seems to encourage them to try again.

The ability to view one’s own older, less attractive work can be a real boost when compared against more current work and gives a more balanced view.

From: Rick Rotante — Aug 29, 2008

I understand what Robert is trying to say here. For most of us we are faced with so much inner conflict in our work as in life that it would be best to put aside (destroy in Robert’s case) work that does not met our (individual) standards. I have many failed attempts. Rejection is not my criteria to destroy my paintings. This does not mean I don’t try the same theme or subject again. I do paint over a failed attempt with what turns out to be a better rendition of what failed. If after repeated attempts I don’t achieve what I want. I leave it alone. Something in me isn’t connecting with the project or I have not thought out the concept fully and every subsequent attempt falls short. Whether you keep every work ever created by you is a personal choice. I keep “old” less mature work to see how far I’ve come. I don’t keep failed work because I know I can do better. There is a distinction between “failed” work and work that didn’t hit the mark as well as I would have liked. I would never show these “failed” works in an exhibit. I believe you have to have some ego/pride and responsibility to show the general public your best work, not work in progress or work that you know didn’t work. What you show in your studio is your business. Displaying every work to the world is like using every color in every painting. “Discretion is the better part of valor here.” “Less is more”. Keep your “progress” to yourself for as long as necessary. When you achieve what you want, keep it and throw out the rest. Concentrate on what is ahead more than what was.

From: Kathy Neudorf — Dec 30, 2008






A moment in time

acrylic painting on canvas, 20 x 24 inches
by Zidonja Ganert, British Columbia, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Carole Pigott who wrote, “This is also a great description of total right brain painting. That unbelievable feeling when every stroke is right on and when one is finished and examines the work wonders, “Did I do that?””

And also Kelli Maier of Westerville, OH, USA who wrote, “I sometimes go through something very much the opposite. When I do exceptionally well on a piece I worry I can’t top it, and become hesitant to do more work.”

And also >Kathy Neudorf of Langley, BC, Canada who wrote, “I painted in a free, creative frenzy for 12 years, then began to have expectations so unrealistic that they doomed me to failure. What began as perfectionist drive destroyed me as a painter, and I put my brushes away. My disappointment in myself was too great to bear. I now make photographs, which are immediate and my failures are simply deleted.”

And also Tracy Wall of Denver CO, USA who wrote, “As Henry Ford also said, ‘Think you can, think you can’t; either way, you’ll be right.’ ”




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