Parting with your Art

If you love something you have to set it free (right?)

Question: When you sell a piece of your art/writing/music, do you feel. . .

(a) Elated — Yay! Let’s go grocery shopping

(b) A little sad to see it go, but that’s part of being a professional artist isn’t it?

(c) Racked with guilt and regret and then finding yourself frantically trying to recreate a copy of it for yourself!

The irony here is that we spend all this time trying to make a living from our art only to discover that we’ve become emotionally attached to our work and can’t let it go.

This is the working artist’s paradox that Christine Terpening brought up a little while ago on our Facebook page.  In the post, she was asking other artists how they deal with selling a piece of art after they have developed an emotional attachment to it.

One of these Artists aren’t like the others. . .

What I found most interesting from this discussion, however, was not how artists become attached to their work, but how this sense of loss and regret seemed to affect certain types of artists more than others.

I would have to think that this partly has to do with the physical interaction visual artists (painters, illustrators, potters, sculptors) have with their work.  By physically manipulating the clay and the paint day after day, I can understand how a visual artist could become more emotionally attached to the final piece.

Writers, musicians, and even photographers who work increasingly in the digital realm–just don’t seem to have this same level of physical interaction with their work. Our composition happens primarily in our mind (which we get to keep ;) ) and our work is then manipulated electronically into it’s final form.  This is partly why a copy of our book, song, or photograph means almost as much to us as the “original”.   Unlike a visual artist, we don’t feel the same need to hang on to the original because for us, it’s virtually indistinguishable from copies of the work.

This certainly doesn’t mean that non-visual artists somehow care less about the finished product, we just have the luxury of being able to have our work and sell it too.  Visual artists, on the other hand, know that an original work can never truly be replaced, which is why the decision to sell or not sell a particular piece can often be so difficult.

So to my visual artist friends . . .

How do you decide what to sell and what to keep?

When you do a commissioned  piece of work, you presumably have little choice but to eventually hand it off to it’s rightful owner (even if you may put it off for a little while) — but when it comes to your non-commissioned  work, how do you decide what you are going to sell and what you’re going to keep in your personal collection? Or do you simply let the marketplace decide for you?

So many of the artists I speak with, tell me that it’s the commissioned or promised pieces that are often the hardest to let go of. What is it about these commissioned pieces that makes them more susceptible to this type of emotional attachment. Is it just the lure of the forbidden fruit, or is there something else at work here?

Here’s what some of your fellow artists had to say:

Amy Lesser

I just did a blog post on some art I made for a 2008 art show. When the time came to part with it, I just couldn’t do it. It was as though part of my soul/personality was tied up in the artwork itself. I priced it at a silly high price, reasoning that if it *did* sell, then it was meant to.  . .  I think it is possible to part with one’s artwork. It has to be something we, as artists, decide beforehand–before our hands begin to touch the thing we are creating. And sometimes, even though we do this–sometimes the art is so personal that we are not yet ready to let it go. Other times, we are so critical of our own work, we cannot even bear to look at it. It appears ugly to us and beautiful to others. These are the things we can let go of, but sometimes these don’t even make it out of the house/studio. Or, a piece of art may take on a life of it’s own and shock and surprise us at it’s beauty. I think these are the specific ones that are difficult to let go of.

Artist Pete Hobden Pete Hobden

I don’t have a problem with this, for some reason. Once I’ve finished a painting. My attention goes almost immediately to my next one, even if I don’t yet know what it will be. Finished paintings become just paintings, which often allows you to see its strong and weak points more easily.

Christine Terpening

Christine Terpening

My husband and I were just laughing about overpricing art hoping it won’t sell. I just did that on my last one. I don’t have a problem selling portraits because they’re not my loved ones so I can take a photo of the finished work & ship it out…it’s my original works that I sometimes can’t bear to part with. They reflect my personality, they look great on my wall & I used my kids for models. Maybe it would help if I used some one elses kids but lets face it…mine are so damn good lookin’! They also work cheap.

Of course I can be swayed by money. If someone offered enough I’d certainly sell…If they are willing to pay high dollar you know that not only will your art hang in a prominent place in the home but obviously the buyer likes you & will tell everyone about you. If you know anyone like that please send them my way.

I do agree that time helps you disconnect with your work. Good wine ages before it sells. I’d like to know more about how Peter moves on so easily…Is it a gender issue? My husband loves what I do but has no problems getting rid of what I create. He looks at it as a sort of ‘pat on the back’ when someone wants to buy my work, as do I.

Emily Clark

Emily Clark

I have never had a problem with this, and a lot of that comes out of my reasons for making art. Most of my art is very personal in subject matter- pieces based on old family photographs of my grandparents in the 1940’s and 50’s- but I would happily send every one of them out the door for almost any price (yes, I do need to pay the bills, but if someone really wants one of my pieces, I will do whatever it takes for them to get it.)

I have always seen my ability to make art as a gift, not to me alone, but a gift THROUGH me to others. While I get great personal pleasure out of doing my work, they do me no good once they are finished and are sitting around the studio. Yes, I have favorites, but I have great photos of them. Once the work is finished, the purpose of my work is to bring joy to someone else.

Julia Forsyth Julia Forsyth

I experience this too! Just today I picked up a painting from a Member’s Show that I promised to someone as a gift. I kept wondering how fast I could paint a similar one but keep the special original I got attached to. Part of mine is that it takes me so long to finish something. So maybe if my production gets much higher, I won’t want to keep it all.

Now it’s your turn. . .

  • Do you ever find yourself getting overly attached to your artistic creations?
  • Have you ever questioned whether a customer is “worthy” of a particular piece of art?
  • Have you ever had second-thoughts after talking with a potential buyer?
  • All of us, have our favorite pieces that we have done. Does it make any difference who you are selling one of these favorites too? Does it have to go to someone you know/like or is it simply another transaction?
  • Have you ever priced a work too high secretly hoping that it wouldn’t sell?
  • Have you ever regretted selling a piece of your work? Have you ever offered to buy one of these back?
  • Are there some pieces you would never consider selling for any amount of money? What separates these pieces from the rest?

Let’s hear it!


Image courtesy of Stepheye

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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