Over the last several weeks I’ve had two people approach me, either in the gallery or via email, asking what they should do with a large inventory of unsold work. In one case, the question came from an artist in her nineties:
I was never a business person of any kind, never being able to promote my art or pursue galleries in hopes of getting them to represent me. The exhibitions I had both in the U.S. and abroad ( I had shows in Austria, Germany and Belgium) came about either by my winning first prize in juried art shows (which meant one-person shows) or by being “discovered” by someone who believed in my art and arranged an exhibition for me. Now it is too late for me with your help to try to overcome my shyness and/or aversion to the business part of art and start afresh. Being well into my nineties my problem has become one that up to now I never found addressed anywhere: What does one do with a large body of work at the end of one’s life other than giving away for free one’s most treasured work to friends who would enjoy them? What to do with the bulk of the remaining paintings? What are your thoughts on this?
In another case a man who lost his wife to illness last year approached me asking how he might share his wife’s unsold work with art lovers.
In the first case I would say that it is never too late to begin promoting and selling your work, grandma moses was selling art right up until her passing at the age of 101. Having said that though, we have to acknowledge that not all of us are Grandma Moses, and that there may come a time where it is no longer the artist’s desire to chase after sales, or it may simply not be possible to achieve success in that pursuit.
The second case, when the artist has passed away, poses an even more difficult challenge. There’s a general misperception among the public that once an artist dies, his or her work becomes instantly more valuable and sellable. Unless the artist was well-known and well-established, this typically is not the case.
So what is an artist to do when marketing no longer seems desirable or feasible? What’s an artist’s family to do when the artist passes away?
I’m afraid that I’ve only had middling responses to these questions. I see the wisdom in passing as much of the work on to the people who will appreciate it the most – friends or family – but it’s often the case that this would only take care of the disposition of a small amount of the total available work. What to do with the remainder?
Ebay? An auction? A community sale? Donation? Bonfire?
What Would You Suggest?
What have you seen artists do when they are retiring from the professional pursuit of their art? What have you observed artists’ families doing to disperse excess inventory? Share your observations, experiences and ideas in the comments below.
As both an artist & a collector, it is my absolute nightmare to think of art—either my own works or pieces I’ve lovingly acquired over the years—in some forgotten corner of a thrift store or something. I know I’ll be dead & gone, so it won’t matter, but I’ll be interested in seeing what others say!
Some of my favorite possessions are the thrift store purchases of original artwork that found their way to my town. Now I have to consider how to dispose of them as well as the things of mine that will outlive me.
I agree, Spencer.
After a life time as a artist and now in my seventies I’ve started painting very small paintings. It might be a little hard to see but they take less paint, canvas and room to store or burn later if necessary.
Actually, so have I. There are many reasons;
Easier to store, but also, easier for people to buy and put in small, barren wall space.
As a young man my great-uncle painted with prominent expressionists in Germany in the late 20s, early 30s. As an expat in Canada, he worked as a draftsman but continued to paint. He died in the 70s. My family uncovered a huge collection of his oil paintings, mostly landscapes of urban scenes in Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland and Northern Canada – some framed but mostly in rolled canvases. As my folks went through them they found scraps of paper attached which he described the location and his thoughts. One of my aunts numbered the canvases and another glued the papers to a notebook. They then hired a local photographer to photograph each painting – in color. The photographs were placed in an album along with the accompanied paper – as-is. Any paintings that the family wanted were taken along with the appropriate frames. The rest were disposed of somehow. Recently I inherited the four volume set and had everything taken from the 3-ring binders and converted into two professionally-bound coffee table-sized books. Except for a dozen or so actual paintings, he is remembered through the photographs and his writings.
Thrift store seems to be the likely place for unsold art… some people are happy to acquire art there
donate them to silent auction fund raisers to support worthy causes. even if the bids are small, someone who wants them will get them. of course this would require some administration to select and transfer the work.
But this is not fair to people who bought your works at higher prices earlier in your career. I’m opting for all-out marketing now and then bonfire.
Did you buy the piece because you liked it or because of the price?
So you advocate “fairness” or fire over the plight of the creator? Makes no sense whatsoever. This matter is about people who expect to die before long. You encourage them to make money at this point in their live… or burn their art! Is this what you will do when you are looking at death?
Why are we so hung up on prices ,? Price is not value. It is the amount agreed to between the seller and the buyer. It can go up and down.
I don’t care what is fair because those clients can only buy one or two pieces not buy my work for life! I have to survive and in order to do that artists do whatever it takes. I will lower the prices during the pandemia, made discounts when J am sick or in need and to get rid of the old work donate or sell for way less. You don’t think that is unfair when your favorite store of clothes at the mall does the same so why artists have to carry with that guilt when they can’t barely survive?
I’ve given older works to folks living in nursing homes and other types of residential facilities where the residents aren’t able to get out and about much. They were well received and brought many smiles (my own included).
One thing I have done when the paintings start piling up is, pick the ones that can be cut up and make into original cards. You can purchase card stock with envelopes. The 5×7 cards sell quickly and depending on the size of the painting can bring in $ to buy more supplies. Plus I have gotten thank you notes for my thank you note…makes me feel like I passed on a gift….
Great idea! They would make a beautiful thank you note from the artist as well.
I haven’t had to face it yet, but I would want mine distributed (or at least made available) first to family, friends, former students/colleagues, and to previous purchasers (if names and contact information are available for them). The remainder could be offered to the general public or destroyed. But that’s a personal preference; others might think very differently about their estates.
I use acrylic on canvas and I can repurpose, or paint over, them. I choose my least favorite to paint over and so I only have as many that I can hang on my walls. Some walls you can hang salon style or very close together. I like to reverse repurpose. I use resist- similar to wax with batik but in this case I use rubber cement. I can draw somewhat with it, dribble it, pour, or dry brush it on. When dry, paint another color over it. When that’s dry, the glue peels off leaving hard edges and surprises under the peels.
Since I have no descendants or family who needs or wants my artwork and I own my own home, I discussed with a foundation the possibility of bequeathing my home and artwork in order to allow someone completing a doctorate or work of fiction or non-fiction to a minimal monthly fee for a two-year residency, allowing the house open once a month for people to view my artwork. (I figured writers won’t need much wall space.) I was immediately told that I would need $200,000 in the estate to cover house maintenance to make this a reality. So if you have that kind of money, you might be able to create something to house your work and provide housing for someone. But I don’t have that kind of money, so I look forward to others’ comments.
Hi Joan, we have the same situation. I am separated no kids and all siblings have their own family. I loved all my artworks though I am not a professional artist. I poured effort to it and it all helped me to express myself and I find comfort and home thru my acrylic paintings. It makes me feel sad too that no immediate family members to leave it and appreciate and cherish the history of it. I just accept the fact that the life I live is the life given to me by God. I cannot choose my future, I cannot choose my family. As I reached my 50, I embraced the emptiness and just braced myself of what is next to come. For now, I did a lot of decluttering, I only keep things that I need, passport, documents, essential clothes and paintings that I really loved to see everyday to cheer me up.I save some nice paintings put a note at the back of it and mail it as a gift to important people that have touched my life. Keeping things simple as possible. Saving also is important if I will stay alone in my journey in life. I find comfort in your post that I can somehow relate to it BUT we need to go on still I keep telling myself, still paint to relax and enjoy in the best way possible. All my Best Regards to you and to all that have the same situation as mine. God Bless-
An artist friend of mine who donated one of her works for an auction for a charity told them that people will come to the auction looking for a bargain, so they will bid very low and the charity will not make much money. She told them to have a starting price that would represent a discount, but not a total rip-off, and let the bids begin from there. You might be able to use the same strategy for Ebay or an online or in-person auction.
Decades ago I donated a pencil drawing to a local charity art auction. I learned that it sold for more than a hundred dollars. Several months ago I got an email from a person who had purchased that drawing from a person who had purchased it from the original bidder. To this day I have no idea how she tracked me down. I’d moved half a dozen times in the intervening year and never had an email way back then. The woman wanted background on my art training (which was zip, de nada) because she was about to sell it to another person for more than one thousand dollars.
That is truly funny because I don’t believe that I have ever sold any work for more than $50.
In Seattle we have Pacific Galleries, an antique and art auction house. I’m sure there are other similar venues in most cities. You might approach an auction house to see if they are interested in auctioning off some paintings. I wouldn’t flood them with work, maybe 3 or 4 paintings per auction.
As a “mature” artist in my 70’s, my work has become less marketable and more meaningful. Meaningful to me, anyway. Since no one loves my work as much as I do, I have decided to take it all with me. I have decided to construct a large pyramid that will house my art collection and serve as my final resting place. While this seems to be an excellent idea, I have run into several problems.
For one, it seems that the city administration was not keen on the idea of constructing a large pyramid in a residential neighborhood. I am also finding it difficult to obtain large blocks of stone, delivered, and a labor force large enough to stack these stones. “Go Fund Me” has not been very successful in getting the millions of dollars that will be needed.
Love your idea! Maybe if you forego those blocks and opt for less expensive materials that don’t require such a labor force, you’re really onto something. Also love your work and philosophy of art.
WE ARE ALL AWARE OF THE SAYING “YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU” BUT I SHARE YOUR SENTIMENTS.
To be honest, this is what I would like to do: take it with me! And that’s that! No alternative measure is likely to satisfy. I don’t believe souls ‘die’, and if I am somehow at least discrete, I may be able to see my work from beyond. Meanwhile, I am appalled by this predicament. My art is precious to me; surely I haven’t made it all for nothing!?
I had a dear friend who was a prolific abstractionist with monstrous canvases. He did take his best unsold paintings with him, rolled up in his casket.
Check out http://www.gardenofedenlucas.org/!
Thanks for bringing this to my attention -what a vision this man had! And the outsize ego to go with the vision and the money to bring it to like. A treasure for the town.
“bring it to life” is what I meant
What a great sense of story telling he had in both his art and his writing. The story about his mausoleum is hilarious. A fabulous gift to the town.
😂 😂😂 I’m sure if all of us artists get together and picket and petition, we could get this ball rolling! Or perhaps we can all come together to purchase some acreage and create a pyramid memorial complete with untold numbers of artwork. It could become a museum!
You sound like the kind of guy I’d like to share a happy hour with. Cheers, virtually, to you and your pyramid.
Douglas. Your ‘preposterous’ suggestion is actually most brilliant and successfully draws attention to the rather universal human quality, a desire to live on and on. I keep thinking how the comedian Norm MacDonald would love your concept!
Two elderly artist friends gave me a couple of framed and unframed paintings. I know that they the distributed to others as well. To tell you the truth they were not their best work. I hate saying this but as I’m getting on now I have started thinking about it. I’ve considered all the options above.
At the moment I have decided that I will rework as many as possible into the style I an happy with now, cut up some for little thank you cards for friends and those who are still buying my paintings and see what ideas others come up with. I am tempted to be ruthless and get rid of anything that I wouldn’t want my family to have to make any decisions about.
I love the idea of giving them to nonprofits (maybe of the artists choice) to auction off as a fund raiser.
BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES ANYONE ?
This is my wife’s solution.
Yep. I’m going to photograph them all again. Post them on POD sites (or stock sites), and enjoy the flames. Actually, I should do that soon. If it seems a problem of consistency, I’ll just add histories to them. I did have them up, but took them down when developing this new body of work, but I’d like them to exist somewhere without being a burden for someone else.
that is what I am going to do soon. I am 67 and wanting to move in a year so the stacks are being whittled down to surfaces I can reuse, but mostly I am looking forward to a bonfire. I have given away a lot of art. No one wants more so I think I will celebrate a solstice with my burnt offerings.
I am thinking that I could do a few photo books of past art, one of my prints, one of my more recent work then the originals can be reworked, donated or burned.
the originals themselves to make very original and possibly large book.
I worked for a non profit org and a volunteer approached us with a body of work that her laye mother asked her to donate to charity . She asked us to promote the work and sell it. I myself purchased 3 pieces and display thec3 pieces as a collage.
Love the bonfire idea! I’ve always had a thing with viking funerals, so maybe make a raft with all your paintings, set it on fire and push it out into the water.
But since I work in ceramics, it would have to be a really enormous and VERY hot fire… My trusty friend Mr. Hammer will come to the rescue when the time comes! 🙂
There are places that are for entertainment where people smash stuff with a sledge hammer. Maybe donate to somewhere like that.
At age 90, with probably 200 pieces of oil paintings, mostly plein air, this is a problem I am
haunted with. I have had some success donating 20 or so pieces at a time to a local
hospital for mentally challenged patients. Some nursing homes will be glad to take a
few pieces. I would welcome any ideas! We have very active “home furnishing” sales
on line and in person here. My heirs will hire one of these to empty out the house
and also sell the paintings . I can trace my changes in my work looking at these
pieces. It seems I painted in a tighter fashion early on. Lately, I am more free with
the design. So…go back through your art before you sell or donate and take a look
at your changes of technique . When the Virus scare is over we can all go back to
our art lives. Anne Allbeury-Hock Easton MD.
Friends/family can contact all nearby galleries to see if they will take on a portion of the works to sell and/or auction off. Family can then decide what they want to do with the proceeds.
Hi Jason, Many artists and their families face these same questions. Recently several families of artists I knew who just passed away, came to me for suggestions of what to do with their art and vast collection of art supplies. I put the question out for input from other artists and came up with this summary of ideas which might be helpful . The entire list is in this blog post: http://patfiorello.blogspot.com/2020/09/what-to-do-with-art-supplies-books-and.html Hope it sparks some new approaches to help address this common issue.
The art supplies, if still viable, can certainly be donated to local art centers or schools. (Estate sales are also a possibility for those.)
At almost 75 I am facing this dilemma. Here are the options I have chosen:
1. Examine the condition of each piece and decide if it’s worth reworking.
2. Cut some larger work down and then rework after intense surface preparation
3. Be really disciplined about whether it’s worth doing anything to and just needs getting rid of.
4. Unroll things I have decided to keep before, re-examine and touch up or rework.
5. After Wednesday’s inspirational critique with Jesus, I am contemplating simply offering my smaller monoprints and work on paper – (3×5 – 11×14) of which I have a lot, as an opportunity to buy good, mounted, original work as an inexpensive way to buy art. I may post on Facebook and perhaps join Instagram to do this and open a marketing page on my website. These are all part of a series I call Small Mysteries.
6. I like the idea of the cards suggested by Carlene
7. Collage into new mixed media work.
Hold a “last ever” event sale exhibition, with either all or a large part of profits going to a cause that is/was close to the artist’s heart or values. Work with the charity rather than dumping the artwork on them. Tell the story of the artist and his/her achievements and why the charity is important to the artist to various media.
Anything left over after that, gesso over and donate to a local charity that organizes art lessons for the handicapped, dementia patients or similar, and you can also give them any remaining art supplies.
Great idea! I have done well at charity auctions before. My only issue is many charity auctions only take 1 or 2 pieces. Getting a charity to do a solo artist auction is something I have never seen.
I recently opened up my entire inventory to my children and grandchildren and told them they could take whatever they wanted for any reason. It was incredibly freeing and exciting. I managed to disperse 44 paintings. Why should they have to wait until I’m dead? Why shouldn’t I have the fun of seeing what they like?
I love this idea for when the time comes or inventory exceeds storage capacity. In the meantime, I’ve decided that there are a couple of works that I will always treasure. While they are not my current style I will keep them until “that” day which I believe will be many years from now.
I’ve also started donating older work to charities and this week received a commission off one. So all ideas can come to good ends.
I told my wife and children that any work that is left by the time I’m 80 that they can take what they want and the rest will be burned in a giant bonfire with a party.
When I lived in DC and walked to work, an artist had one piece of her art on the sidewalk tipped on her stairs of her brownstone everyday, with a sign, “take my art and enjoy”! Why not, because if someone takes it, they like it and will use it or gift it.
Give it to your patrons. I am sure all artists have sold some work! Along with friends.
Or non profits to sell.
When I think of this problem it depresses me and I think maybe I should paint less, or that I should paint more commercially accessible pieces so they won’t be a burden on my family when I’m gone. Then I realize, it will be my gift to them and they can share and distribute and donate as they see fit. Meanwhile my job is to get my name out and my art seen so there might be some demand for it now or when I am gone. 1-phil-strang.pixels.com
Having in the last few years redefined my medium as an artist I had a lot of highly specialized equipment to deal with. Given the Covid19 situation I didn’t want to try to sell it. Fortunately one member of my large family has the spark to make jewelry. So last Saturday we were both thrilled when she hauled off thousands of $ worth of tools and equipment. So, now I paint. That will be the next problem. I market my art but I also I keep an eye out for ways to donate to local auctions. They have been very receptive :o).
A friend of moving, facing a long distance move, went to a care home with a van full of paintings and asked if they would like to offer them to their patients. The paintings were offered at a “grand opening” and the patients came down and selected what they wanted and had the chance to meet the artist. No monies were exchanged, just some joy in pre-Covid times.
In the Washington, DC area there is an organization called “Home is where the Art is” that accepts donations of original art work. This is a non-profit organization formed to provide framed original artwork at no charge to people transitioning from homelessness or a shelter into their new home.
(www.hiwtai13.wordpress.com) So if anyone from this area wishes to donate art work, this might be one way to do that. There might be similar organizations in other areas of the country.
Thank you. I live in Washington, DC. I will keep that in mind!
I already have it in my will that after family and friends keep what they want, the rest is to be donated to a local non profit member owned art gallery to be sold for their benefit.
The issue with a majority of this work is that there is no artist/creator present to explain the works meaning and essence. Be sure to accompany any works leftover with a written explanation about the work and the life philosophy of the artist. Through this it will find a home outside the thrift store. Tell your story in life as well as death.
In my life as a dealer i dealt with many such collections ranging from the famous to the unknown. Some were of little value economically but had significance to their local communities and were therefore donated to that use. [[after consideration and research many were burned to preserve the dignity and image of the artists carrear and life]. Those with an economic value were more difficult to deal with as the family or owners considered them of greater value than the market would bear or ever support. These were selectively prepared for sale and presented over time simply as quality art, slowly they would sell. [in most cases those that were not appealing to collectors became the families problem children until they finally came to the realisation that they could not sell/transport or display the works and selling at lower values became acceptable. that is where auctions come in as places for problem art that cannot find a home. Bargain finders are not that choosy thus collections assembled from low value auctions are usually low value in turn./, ]
Museums and public art galleries do not want and cannot take the art without proper identification and provenance as well as extensive explanations of why it is important art to be preserved. Without that effort forget it. Sometimes they will take it for fundraiser cannon fodder. Be prepared to put out money to donate the works, no gallery will take work that is not framed and prepared properly as they do not have the funds to do so.
Having dealt with many extensive collections of this type of material each is unique and does not follow any established rules in the way marketing the works of living artists does. Thus regular commercial art galleries do very poorly with such collections if they are willing to work with them at all.
Such collections must enter the dispassionate world of the art dealer who must solely present its value without the merits of the creator present. This part of the art world deserves its reputation as being hard nosed and ruthless as it relies solely upon the connections of the dealer in question with no economic or social nicety boundaries. The family/ collector who engages such a dealer must be prepared to back completely away from the process of dealing with the art.
If it is student grade art donate it or give it to charity. Its value is solely upon the image. presentation is not worth putting money into.
In my experience these are the hard realities of a world in which there are millions of artists and more art being created every moment. There are more artists working today than there were people alive in the 16th century,.
As a late carrear artist myself i am preparing my works and collections for final disposition already by producing art books and doing museum exhibitions as well as the selective placement of works in the collections of prominent collections. It actually takes more work doing this than to do regular production and sale marketing via galleries or direct sales. If you want a legacy for your art it is you who must create it in life preparing for when you are not present to explain the art. It takes money/ time/ focus and commitment to do it properly.
Excellent points. My dad was a watercolor California Scene painter. He had shown in galleries and shows when he was younger but stopped when he started teaching high school to support the family. He trained at Chouinard with Phil Paradise and other members of the California school, and when he died, there was a resurgence of interest in that unique style. When I got home after the funeral I stayed up all night emailing every gallery that handled estates, giving my mom’s contact information. The next day, her phone started ringing off the hook and for years after that, she handled his work. Some pieces ended up in museums and many in the homes of collectors. She shared the money with us at the end of each year. The task helped her through the first hard year alone. (They had been married more than 60 years.) My own case is different. My husband doesn’t really like my work, though he tries to be encouraging, and neither does our daughter, who considers art collecting “hoarding.” I’m working on a new body of work and will do a gallery-finding blitz as soon as I finish 20. I took all of my old art down from the web when I decided on a new style, but I’m re-thinking that. I’m going to photograph everything again and post it on POD sites. If I have warning of impending doom, we have a BBQ grill in the yard.
i have cut up and burned a lot of my own art over the years as style and media changed. think of it as releasing the energy bound within that can then be employed in the new work.
There. Are a few. Charities that furnish domestic living spaces for refugees and perhaps homeless families. I would donate any painting that my surviving family don’t want to these charities if they will accept them…..to do what they like. If the work can bring a bit of colour into a life then great…
It is cold, gray and dark and so is this question. I’ve tried three times to make a comment.
The problem is, I am facing this very issue and the internal storm is brewing,
Why did I make all this stuff?
Because I had to in order to claim my place and my identity in time. Pretty selfish actually.
Recently, (after Art Business Academy with Jason, and Art MBA with Miguel) I’ve come to grips with just who I am and what I am able to do (what my particular view and process is). Amazingly, there has been this following.
It boils down to this.
If no one sees your work, it doesn’t exist.
If no one knows you make art images except you, you are your audience. One you have set the value for your work. When you are no longer around, the value that you placed on your work ceases to exist.
This is blunt and cold but kind of objective.
Recently, I found an old portfolio of my early work. I thought it had been destroyed but it reminded me that the work (mainly etchings and engravings) had attracted interest and many were sold. (No records of course).
I’m thinking I could have a “back room” on the website where these anomalies could hang out.
If they sell (at freakishly low prices, OK).
What does this mean for the “estate” question? Perhaps the accumulated work could be a “found portfolio.” Auction the work off online or in situ, and discard the rest.
Last bit. If I were to decease today, the burden for all my art work would fall to 4 people. We’ve all been through this with our parents/grandparents. I feel that my lack of planning and lack of guidance is a burden too great. Whatever you do, DO SOMETHING!
Listen to Matt Tommey artist mentoring podcasts. Whatever situation you are in as an artist, he has incredible insights and encouraging guest artists who all go through deep valleys in their art journey. I personally think God has given artists a great gift. Unfortunately a lot of times we are too critical of ourselves to see it that way. Find some joy in your craft and definitely listen to Matt. Blessings to you.
As a ceramic artist, many of my pieces will last over 10,000 years. With that in mind, like a stone or shell, I toss pieces as far as I can into the ocean, usually at the more isolated beaches of the Pacific. The work of time, waves and sand, adds a bit of history, as well as interesting patinas into the mix. On rare occasions I’ll get an email from someone who has found a piece that washed up on shore. They are always thrilled.
I like to think my disposal method will give future archeologists something to scratch their heads about.
This method of getting rid of old pieces works on smaller items, but not good for larger or intricate works. Large rivers work as well as the ocean. However, I am quite selective so as to limit more junk contaminating the beaches and rivers.
Art changes hands over time. In its history a single piece may pass through many hands. (I call these people the “rightful owners.”)
Obviously, paper and canvas works deteriorate and are not good for the environment. Plastic and styrofoam are worse. Fired clay, on the other hand lasts like the stones of the earth. To me, the very nature of ceramic work is that of working harmoniously with the earth itself. How fitting it is that it returns to the earth.
After years of this disposal method, I still have too many pieces. (I’ve been creating in clay for over 50 years. I am now 80.)
When I’m gone my extended family will have decisions to make, but eventually the pieces will find their many “rightful owners.” Perhaps it is best to let nature take its course.
Trowing one thing in the ocean is already one thing too many.
I love this – returning your ceramics to the earth and sea. Beautiful.
I love that you toss them into the sea. There is something poetic about that.
You could smash it into bits like gravel for paths or mosaics.
This is something I ponder on occasion, as well.
I do a lot of my art in sketchbooks (sell scanned art as prints). Like others have said, I’ll probably will them to family or friends who want the art first, then ask to have the art donated to a non-profit for either sale or the general public’s enjoyment.
Regarding my sketchbooks, there is thesketchbookproject.com – a place in NYC that has thousands of sketchbooks. I’d probably ask that they be given to that facility or a similar one if no friend or family member wants them.
I get real morbid thoughts sometimes while creating art – like what’s the point in making all of this when it’ll end up being someone’s problem in the future? I try to step out of the morbidity, though, and figure that the desire to create was given to me for a reason so I’ll go ahead and honor it.
Good ideas! I’ve just started doing sketchbooks. I go Plein air painting once a week with friends and do a small watercolor each time that doesn’t fit with anything else I’m doing now. I’ve decided to affix them to blank cards and send them out instead of Christmas cards, so at least that recent output will be homed.
When my parents passed away in 2016 we were left with a large volume of the artwork they had both created in their later years. Some I have kept, of course, but the vast majority of it I have given away or sold because the art they created really isn’t our taste. I actually have had great success selling it very reasonably on Facebook marketplace. I’m finding that people are thrilled to purchase framed, ready to hang work for their walls. And I have the added comfort of knowing that the many creations of my parents are out in the wild, giving pleasure to others for many years to come.
As for my own work, well I am an artist but also a compulsive collector, so you can bet we have a problem on our hands. We have been collecting the work of other artists for more than 40 years. And I also have 40+ years worth of my own artwork in fiber, illustration, and now painting. I am confident that somehow my own work will find homes, either by continued sales or adoption. But I actually worry more about the wonderful art we have collected, some of it quite valuable, and I wonder if my children will know to do some research on it all before calling in the estate sale professionals.
Two things I know: I will not stop making the art and I also am unlikely to stop collecting it. Making art and living with art is food for the soul. I wouldn’t be happy not living that way. So I am not going to fret about it. What will be will be.
I just know that my art will outlive me and I am fine with that as long as it is out there, being seen. For an excellent meditation on all of this I can highly recommend a wonderful documentary about artist Michael I. Fenton. Here is the link: http://www.paintasyoulike.com/. In the end his advice to his son about disposing of his art: Take what you like and sell the rest for pennies on the dollar. Just get it out there.
Good point about the works of other artists. I have this problem too. I’ve bought some pieces and traded for others. Sighs. I hadn’t thought of that. I can’t burn them as I plan to do with mine, or offer them as prints online. I guess that’s how some of my own paintings will end up in the thrift store, because I’m pretty sure that’s what my daughter will do with the drawings and paintings I have that are by other people. Oh well. I won’t be here for the humiliation. (We do occasionally get emails from people thinking they have found one of Dad’s in a thrift store. Though not bad, these works have not been his.)
As a retired high school art teacher, I know that the budgets for public school art programs are ridiculous! Donate your artwork to your neighborhood high school and let them do a silent auction of your leftovers. You will benefit future artists that way and possibly inspire someone.
I love this suggestion, Barbara! I owe much of my life to art teachers who fostered my nature and inclinations. I also understand the impulse and love that wishes to sponsor creative youth. At 71 years of age, I’m dumbfounded to be confronting my eventual departure from this bodily human form. I (almost) never sought money and, since the beginning, felt that I painted for “posterity”.
When I was in art school, there were a lot of students who found it difficult to afford new canvases to paint for class projects. If you have paintings that you can’t sell or give away, consider painting over them and donating for repainting or even removing the canvas and donate the frame to your local art school. The students can repurpose them for their projects and everyone is a winner.
Whatever you want to happen to your artwork after you pass, make sure that it is all spelled out in your will. There is no guarantee that family or friends will follow your wishes to the letter. And if you choose a nonprofit or school or gallery or museum, let them know ahead of time so that they can plan as to how works will be received, displayed, sold, etc.
There are some realities to address regarding either auctioning your unsold artwork or donating it to charities. I have established artist friends (still living) who have gone the auction lot route with their unsold art, and while they did “unload” a lot of pieces and found the process interesting, they realized, in their words, “pennies on the dollar.” As far as charities go, especially if you are referencing art organizations, usually they take only a few works at a time from a single artist. And the onerous IRS rules regarding what an artist can claim for a donation of their unsold artwork remain at the cost of materials only. I’m in my mid-70’s, and have written out for my family some of my wishes for disposition of my unsold artwork, frame inventory, and equipment and materials upon my death. I’ve suggested that my closest art friends be invited to choose what they want, with the remainder going to my local Plein air organization to dispose of as they see fit. As for my unsold painting inventory, which is always about 90% framed, I’ve suggested a lottery where family and close friends choose what they want and the rest going through an auctioneer., perhaps after a major studio sale is mounted if that is reasonable for my family, My galleries should probably be given a shot at any paintings they might want to display, and that should take care of most of this legacy.
This subject has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments and even checking out some of your websites. Thank you Jason for providing this forum to artists, there is so much that can be learned from it. You’ve all shared some great ideas for me to consider. Thank you.
As an artist who was prepping for multiple shows this year that didn’t happen, and now is about to move to a different province, I’ve already been giving in a lot of thought. Step 1 – discount sale – I just ran a month-long Instagram art sale, with all older work priced at 30-60% off. Sold a few that way. Step 2 – gifted to friends and loved ones in town. Step 3 – gifted a few to charity or non-profit orgs to use as they will. Step 4 – determine which of the remaining works are ones that are current enough to be worth moving, which ones can be repurposed and which just need to be tossed. It’s going better than planned, though I’m still going to be moving a lot of work. Which I am taking to mean that I have to start repurposing more often!
An estate sale company might be a good solution in some cases. Besides being an artist, I am also a vintage clothing dealer, so I go to a lot of professionally-run estate sales. Not too long ago, I went to a sale where the person had been a prolific and very skilled artist. The paintings (probably more than 100 of them, unframed canvases) sold very quickly. Not huge prices, but the buyers were enthusiastic. Some of course, would be re-sellers. Some bought for their own enjoyment. The owner of the estate sale company told me they all had been sold by the end of the weekend. I’m sure this brought in some well-appreciated funds for the family of the deceased. All the art ended up in happy hands. Of course, a lot of this depends on the art in question….in this case it was bright and colorful, charming, well done (but in a certain naive way) and appealing to the crowd of buyers. One important thing to note here is the importance of a *professional* estate sale company.
An artist contacted me about a large body of ceramic work that she had created over many years. Her kids didn’t want any of it. She had been diagnosed with an illness that gave her about a year to live but was currently well. We talked it over and decided that she would rent a space and put on a self-hosted retrospective of her work, treating it as a party and celebration of her life. She planned to invite everyone she knew, meet people as they viewed her work, and selectively gift her art to people she felt would really appreciate it.
Wow, I remember an attorney speaking to us about “legacy” at the American Society of Marine Artist conference last March. She reminded us about how the IRS gets involved after the death of an artist and then taxes are involved as part of the estate.
Personally I’d rather have a big bonfire, lol. Time will tell.
So sad Here in Canada, along with our benign medical program, there is no also inheritance tax. Everything isn’t wondrous in Canada, but I do appreciate these two policies!
I make pottery and teach others. One of my long-term students had a large collection of her work in a variety of media (not just pottery). Diagnosed with a terminal illness, she arranged for a sale at her place of worship to be held after her death. Prices were very reasonable. I believe the proceeds benefited specific programs at her place of worship, but some may have also gone to her family. It was a wonderful event, and people beamed as they took home their prizes. There are so many good ideas in the responses here. I hope this one may be helpful.
If you haven’t sold it, give it away. And do it today. The only artwork that matters is what you are working on now. Everything before that is just practice.
Thank you. Of all of the suggestions, this is the one that resonated with me the most! I love it!
That is the most practical answer. Quite honestly, I feel pain every time I have to scroll through an album on my phone or my IG posts to locate a painting. It pulls me out of the present moment, out of progression and back to all the hard work I did that didn’t result in a viable exchange. It discourages me from continuing. Certainly discourages me from continuing to work large, which I love. (btw, honestly, who, except museums and .000001 % of buyers has the wall space, let alone storage space for large scale paintings? It feels wonderful to do, but the aftermath doesn’t justify my energy and expense. Experience, juried shows, admiration and sporadic sales don’t sustain a lifestyle. The work and materials alone, (excluding walls to paint on) consume a good sized room or garage of space, are expensive to store and expensive to move. Two days ago, someone with quite a few connections asked me what I was working on, waiting to be entertained with details. I replied, “I’m working on selling my work, because I need space to create new work. I can’t just be churning out new work with nowhere to put it.” Response: crickets, then a nod. It’s quite a joke that the public at large doesn’t value artist’s work, yet, when an artist dies, suddenly the tax assessor decides it has value.
Lesley Koenig, This post of yours is the most helpful and realistic for me that I have read in this entire thread. In my 70s, and with the same love of large work as you, I have not stopped painting, experimenting, taking workshops, or exhibiting my art. Yet a nagging little voice keeps whispering, What’s going to happen next?
I will continue to sell my art (after adding up the sales for the last five years, I was stunned to learn the total — more than $10,000), and I will continue to create art as long as I live. Some of it from childhood, saved by my late Mom, has gone into the trash. Some has been cut down to bookmark sizes and greeting cards. However, I love making art, period.
The iceman cometh for both artists and their work. The article removes the rose colored glasses and makes me ponder mightily what I want for the unsold body of work I’ve created over the years.
For one: preserved digitally in a secure computer cloud bank. I have few expectations for a long life expectancy of the original pieces; but perhaps as NFT’s continuing to pass unto future generations making money for the successive owners – perhaps?
The old school coffee-table book cataloging much of the work also appeals to me. Printing technology for such a project makes this feasibly possible from a cost perspective.
The long of it is I’d guess most artists would feel good knowing their lifelong artistic achievement wether surviving digitally or hard copy catalogue was continuing to circulate after their demise. And who knows – maybe posthumous fame & recognition.
This is the only suggestion that makes any sense to me. Otherwise, all is vanity and a burden. We are to paint and enjoy our lives while we have life! Yes, Nicholas Read, you are so right. If you haven’t sold it, give it away!
Check out a website “POBA.org”.
“POBA is a groundbreaking online arts hub that celebrates and features the works of a broad range of exceptional artists who have died without recognition of the full measure of their talents or creative legacies.”
It offers a number of services (worth checking it out) but one is for curating a page of work representing/honoring the work of someone who has passed on but whose work you want to remain in the digital world. There are some amazing artists there. While this isn’t about disposing of work, it is a way to keep it around for others to see (and purchase).
Incredible site. Thank you.
I am in my 70s and have an increasing collection of unsold works. Many of these are award winners and have been on travelling shows around the country. I have donated several pieces to my local art society and other local charities to auction as fundraisers. This, however, has only taken care of a few items, so what to do with the rest? After reading your article I gave this considerable thought and came up with what I hope is the best solution. Many years ago my stepson passed away from an aggressive incurable brain tumour. A Buddhist charitable hospice organisation named Karuna came to our aid and provided Matthew with a hospital bed, pain medication and a home visiting doctor along with relief carer volunteer for my wife and I. This was a free service which allowed Matthew to be at home with us instead of stuck in a hospital for his last weeks. We have never forgotten this wonderful organisation and so I intend to leave the bulk of my collection to their cause.
as a 56 year-old artist with no children, i have often thought of what to do with what i leave behind, especially work that came from a deeper place and that illustrated an especially formative period of my development. there are a million ways to give back to the world, and leaving your art to whomever it moves is, in my opinion, one of the kindest and most intimate gestures one can do. i’ve always been hugely inspired by the works of random strangers – sketchbooks i’ve acquired from estate sales, journals i found in the trash, original paintings in forgotten corners of the thrift shop. i google their names, i research their lives, i look for other images or stories that may have found their way onto the internet. i’ve even written letters to the descendants of one or two artists whose long lost sketch books i’ve randomly acquired, telling them how much the work has meant to me and how their loved one will live on through their drawings or notes because it fell into appreciative hands. my point is, there will always be someone out there who would love to know who created that piece a hundred years ago, what was their life like, and what was their story? who came after them and why don’t THEY have this sketchbook? the internet is a useful tool and we can use it for good, not evil. if you’re 90 and wondering what to do with your art, you can still have a huge impact on others, before and after you’re gone. put your work out there with a few words about your life and a call for someone to pass the baton to. i’ll bet there are thousands of interested, curious, creative and appreciative recipients that would love to be a witness to your legacy. kind of like a dating app for older artists and younger protogees, or just folks that love your work and want it to live on.
An artist friend of mine passed away a few years ago. The family held a celebration of life pot-luck luncheon, received “donations” for her art work with the proceeds going to the local art league & art programming in the local schools.
Timely. I’m moving to another state, and having to box this stuff up is a daunting process. However, although in my mid-70’s, I feel my career is just beginning to take off, and so I’d better do some re-evaluating of what I have to sell – or give away when my time comes…
I am 70 (luckily in excellent health!) and have many paintings and limited edition prints in my inventory. For various good reasons excluding health issues, I felt compelled to “retire” from art for a little over a decade between my late 50s to late 60s. For the last few years, I have been building new inventory of paintings and new prints, trying to get back into the shows, but covid hit and all the shows I had lined up and been accepted into have been cancelled. Now, I am finding it nearly impossible to get back into a fairly successful career I had abandoned. Not knowing what the future holds, this topic has been on my mind. I know I won’t have trouble finding family who would love to own my paintings, but there is no way they could accommodate hundreds, if not thousands of prints in my limited edition print series produced over a period of 40 years. I have heard that inventory of unsold art goes into the value of a deceased artist’s estate value and is therefore part of the “estate” or ‘death” tax that heirs must pay upon inheritance. I have no idea of how the value is computed. I’d hate to saddle my husband or children with this burden. Any of y’all out there have knowledge on this subject?
As a felt artist, I would like my unsold works to be used in parks and gardens. Wool composts down slowly and will serve as mulch for a few years first. There are already a few failures round our fruit trees…
I’m a printmaker; need I say more? So many editions and variations and states. I also make collages and sculptures, and I have my fair share of unsold work. I recently went the bonfire route. I held a live auction on instagram and the work that did not sell went right in the fire pit, then and there on camera. It was delightful and fun and made room; both physically and psychically, for new work and ideas. I’m doing it again next weekend.
I’ve thought about this a lot. For a start, each December I choose some particularly unworthy stuff for a nice solstice fire. It’s very colorful.
The value of your art (for estate purposes) is based on previous sales you have made. Be aware! An assessor doesn’t care about quality, only numbers.
I try to separate the ‘just okay’ pictures, even when I love the memories of them. A large folder titled ‘Burn Pile’ accumulates those so-so paintings and then it’s bonfire party time.
After my death I want to have all my remaining ‘best’ work brought to a reception. Anyone who attends can bring a painting home. Hopefully there will be a crowd!
Burn your art? Be careful if the work has toxic metals: lead primer and paint, cadmium colors.
The vast majority of estates are too small to be charged a federal inheritance tax which in 2020 applies only to assets of 11.58 million dollars or more. A few states have an estate tax and you would have to check with each state in this regard.
I do a yearly end of the year review. The best pieces are on my walls and too preasious to sell or give away at this time. The worst pieces went in a scrap pile. There is a do over pile and several pieces that need to be fixed. At Thanksgiving I decided to gift 40 Madonna and Child paintings that didn’t sell to the local parish to spread the joy. I brought giftbags of 15 – 20 small paintings to a local boutique and museum where I had shows this year. I do not want to keep works I’m not 100% happy with in the sales inventory starting the new year. At some point we should create a legal testament with our last wish for the works, no?
This year, the local art league notified the members of an100 year old artist, Ruth Benthin, now blind and unable to paint, offering her collection for sale, and art material to the highest bidder. Her works didn’t fit my style, but I was gifted material and equipment worth a lot. What an exitement, and I try to honor this lovely lady by making sure her gift comes to good use. 7 big canvas I got, has a dedication to her at the back.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR VALUABLE SERVICE PROVIDED TO MANY OF YOUR FRIENDS OF ARTISTS.
MANY MANY BLESSINGS OF YOU, GOOD HEALTH AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR FOR YOU * FAMILY* AND FUTURE COSTUMERS.
one grateful Friend.
Reading all these wonderful suggestions gave me an idea. I would be happy to sell or give away most of the large collection of oil and watercolor paintings I’ve created (and continue to create) but when I have time and energy for art I’d rather spend it making art rather than marketing it. I don’t really need the money but family members and so many in our community certainly could. My idea: after setting aside my favorites to keep and enjoy offer the entire inventory to family and friends. Then hire someone to do the marketing, sales and shipping for me in exchange for 50% of what they bring in and the rest of the money gets donated.
I agree with you Phil, it’s a very sad scenario for artists. My dad’s cousin was an artist, but was not established until he died. Until then the family just pushed him many paintings in the corner when we came to visit…they’d say, “Oh, those are John’s just throw those in the corner.” After he died you should have seen family members scrambling to keep one of “those” paintings. I was so sorry I never got to meet John Wesley Hardrick, because I was very little when he died. Today I study his techniques and incorporate them into my artwork…but you’re so right.. maybe I should slow down.
I have been a photographer for more than four decades. I have many boxes of negatives, contact sheets, enlargements, and yes even undeveloped film. When I saw the film about the unknown photographer that was discovered via a storage unit sale it was very similar to my story.
I have won awards in competitions throughout the years. I used to have a couple of shows a year but haven’t lately.
My partner (also a photographer) doesn’t want to have to deal with my stuff. She suggested I donate it to the university that I attended.
This thread is motivating me to get it out in the public while I am still here.(I am a terrible procrastinator.) 🙁
In Minneapolis Nel Hillsley agreed with an Episcopal church to have a sale to benefit the International Peace Force to which she donated most of the unsold paintings in her studio. The combination of a worthy cause and a locally popular artist resulted in a donation of tens of thousands of dollars.Now years later she may need to have another sale, as paintings tend to build up! In the case of my paintings of Maine island houses I’m publishing a small format book for tourists to sell in the island gift shop.
Even after you become an accomplished painter, not every painting is your best work. Some paintings just stand out. Your best paintings are usually the ones that sell. So the paintings that stack up in the garage are the runners up. It does not seem right that the paintings your family will be left with when you die are not your best work. The ones that didn’t sell. I took a workshop from a well-known watercolorist and he told us that he always keeps his very best work. What he keeps is basically his retrospective, his personally curated representation of his work. So his family will end up with a collection of his best.
This makes so much sense to me. There are some paintings that I sold that I would gladly buy back if I could. They were pivotal pieces. Maybe because I am aware that not every painting I make is my best work, every year or so I go through unsold work and cull the less successful work and destroy it. This feels wonderful. It’s like a cleansing. I have a clean slate. Everything left is a piece that I love.
We need to get over the idea that every painting is a keeper. That every bit of art supply you’ve ever bought has to be vindicated by being in a painting that sells. Part of the painting process is simply just painting. I can’t think of any other creative endeavor where every single thing you do is kept forever.
So if you have 500 paintings in your garage, and there is no serious reality that each one will be sold for what it’s worth by your family members after you’re gone … start by culling the number down to 400 paintings, your 400 best paintings. Then 300. Then 200. Then 100.
Wouldn’t you rather posterity see your 100 best paintings than a pile of 500 that never sold?
I guarantee that after the pain of letting go of the time and materials that went into them you will be left with a sense of relief and freedom.
In Cleveland, OH we have The Artist Archives of the Western Reserve AAWR
My dad left about 50 years’ worth of canvases when he passed away at 97. He never really tried to sell or even exhibit his work, he regarded painting as his escape. He gave away a number of paintings to friends and family over the years, and also gave paintings to organizations that meant a lot to him, like the local public library and the university medical center. But when we cleared out his studio, we found over 80 paintings, some framed, many not, some we didn’t remember at all and some we recalled had hung on the walls of our family home at one time or another. My mom had just moved into assisted living and was able to take a handful of paintings, I had accumulated some over the years and took what I could find space for; my brother also took 4-5. But we had over 50 left, some good size. I decided to offer the paintings to friends and acquaintances via Facebook in exchange for a donation to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where my dad took evening painting classes for several years while we lived in Baltimore. Those classes sent him on a journey that lasted a lifetime. I photographed the paintings, posted the set on Facebook with info about size, materials etc. Over the next month I sold most of the paintings for donations that ranged from $25 to $150. Most of the buyers did not know my dad, a few did not even know me or my family. Several were from out of state and paid shipping in addition to their donations. I was able to send the Baltimore Museum of Art $1500. Best of all, my dad’s paintings are all over the country, mostly hanging on walls of friends. And now I don’t have to wonder what to do with his work, or store it where no one will ever see it.
A MUSEUM ORGANIZATION SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS — ARTIST’S ART COLLECTION & PRIVATE WORKS (AAC-PC).
My local gallery closed and I moved out of my studio during lockdown and had a major storage issue so I spent a lot of time culling my oil painting collection from 10 years of taking classes and doing learning exercises. About 10% of the canvases went in the trash. Then there were canvases with some nice moments but not worth framing. I took an exacto knife and cut out the sweet bits and made collages that turned out quite well. One was juried into a show and I reduced 21 meh canvases to 2 star pieces that I really like. Then there were the panels. Again many were trashed. Some were painted over. I donate to charity auctions and hold charity sales from my home studio where a percentage goes to a non profit. I started a website learned basic marketing and sold some that way. I enter shows regularly and sold some that way. I gave away pieces to family members and friends even people who did work at my house got handed at least a giclee that was going nowhere. I try to paint small because I’m out of space again and I frame only for in person shows. My next open studio will feature a framing station and my bins of unframed panels will be available at bargain prices for folks to go through and then try frames on. An art student will be there to pop frames on and wire them on the spot. Those that remain will either get trashed or painted over unless I really love them.
I miss having a gallery to take my work but learned a lot this past few years. Maybe some day I’ll try finding a new one.
Lots of people seem to think that donating the archive to a non-profit to sell is a good way to dispose of their unsold work — but having been part of the board of a non-profit that was unwise enough to have accepted exactly such a donation, I can tell you that the non-profit frequently finds the archive much more of a burden than a help.
For one thing, there are storage, shipping, and packaging costs, along with marketing and sales spaces that all require both funding and maintenance, and for another, people need to be involved to carry out all the tasks that go into running a gallery: most non-profits do not get funding for their operations, only for projects, and taking the administration and costs back out of the revenues is frowned upon by most donors and members of the general public.
If the archive has not been marketed during the artist’s lifetime, it is a very hard sell indeed, and rapidly becomes an obligation that the non-profit regrets taking on.
It may be very much more difficult to find a non-profit willing to take this on than expected, and leaving this to your loved ones to arrange isn’t really doing them any favors either.
If this is part of your estate plan, some research into the possibilities for non-profit involvement is in order before you assume that a non-profit will actually benefit from the donation.
My artist husband created 30 years of paintings. They sat in growing stacks and piles for years in our basement. We would donate to charities in our area for auctions, participate in art gallery shows in various cities and even let our friends take a painting home after a dinner party.
We moved to a new house and realized how much artwork Ryan had produced and opened our own art gallery! We are in our 5th year of only showing his work, all original pieces! I am not an artist so I run the business. Its been a risky and successful story! Come visit! Hopkins Original Art
Some great suggestions. I’m not keen on the bonfire idea and as someone mentioned, it’s important to be careful of any toxicity from chemicals and paints.
I’m very inspired by all I can do now to reduce my inventory and share my work with others. After a recent move, and transporting 150 paintings from my studio to my new small ‘home studio’, all of this came to my attention. I am now enjoying painting over and up leveling many of my paintings, finishing many ‘almost finished’ paintings, and feel good about not purchasing too many new canvases.
As someone said, you have to get your work out there – if no one sees it, you’re not going to sell it – and it’s a way to feel part of the community. And yes…hang some of your favorite pieces in your home, give some to family and friends to enjoy now, participate in silent auctions, donate to long term care and hospital settings to bring joy and positive energy to the environment, paint over some pieces with gesso and donate to school and community art classes, cut up old paintings and make greeting cards. There’s so much we can do now and it feels good to clear through as we go along. Thanks to everyone for all the great ideas. Art feeds the soul and lifts the spirit which we all need during this time and at any time.
I make pottery and I have begun to select older unsold pieces to take with me to shows and when a customer makes a purchase I offer them a choice of one of those items for free.
I understand the dilemma of an artist. its a complex problem that is not easily solved. I am not an art expert but I am dealing with the same issues. My father was a sculpture. stone, metal, bronze, wood, or anything else he could carve. like his father and I, we started our art life latter in life after a very successful career. the biggest issue is management of the collection.storage cost, time and money is always a problem. the artist while alive is hard to manage, the art is very personal. after the passing, the heirs might have a false value of the art and outlets available to a living artist will shut out heirs. You should treat it just like all your other assets , you should plan for its passing to its next place and who will guide it. as you prepare, the issue will reveal themselves. I found a very good art appraiser before my fathers passing. it provided a clearly objective assessment. once I knew what I was dealing with, I developed a plan.
Thank you for this blog which I came across partly looking for similar advice, partly by accident. It seems like a common problem, there are always more artists than people to buy art I imagine. I’ve been forced to face this recently, being in my 50s and having problems with covid and other more recent serious health issues. I’m probably pretty close to the correspondent you recieved your email from – in that I’ve shown bits and pieces with my art over my life, but mostly it remains, unwanted, unsold and stored. I acknowledged a long time ago that I just didn’t have it in me to be the artist and my own agent (like your correspondent, I’m just not that person, and my efforts at trying to be have all not come to anything), so I’ve sort of withdrawn into myself more and more making art for myself, which is why we all probably started in the first place right?
I think the hardest part for me though has been understanding the sadness that comes with it, on the one hand it feels like a lot of regret and ‘wasted’ time that I could have been doing other things in my life with. But I guess the reason I did it because I never was that person. Art for me (maybe for a lot of us) has always been part art/ part therapy, and I think it only exists because of who I am not in spite of who I am, if that makes any sense at all.
Anyway, I digress. What will I do with it? I think the only answer I have left is ‘nothing’. Anywhere I’ve approached doesn’t want it, and I don’t really have any family or friends left so it will likely go the way of the other things I have. Do I worry about what will happen to my watch, or my books, or my clothes? I don’t spend the time, so I’ve decided I shan’t for my art work either. I’ll make it when the mood takes me and store it in the same way when it’s done and move onto the next. I get it, that we want somewhere special for our work – it’s part of us and who we are in a different way to anything else we leave behind. Then I guess why not just leave it, the universe will do with it what it does. Leaving it behind feels like something positive in that sense.
Art has always been my passion so like many others here i have asked myself the same question. I like the idea of repainting on a canvass multiple times and taking photos of all the paintings. Than i will take the photos of my paintings and drawings and putting them on social media ( facebook and instagram) and/or a photo website like flickr , photobucket or shutterfly free of copyrights for anyone to use and share so my drawings and paintings will live online way after i am gone.
I appreciate the thoughts of those who responded. But, I cannot bare the idea of burning all the artwork I put so much of my time and soul and energy into. Although I did destroy many paintings several years ago only because I wasn’t 100% happy with them. (I may have 1 or 2 more.) After painting for most of my life, most of my paintings today, I am pleased with.
I especially like the idea of having a wake or reception after my death and letting everyone choose a painting to take with them. One additional problem I have is that, if I die before my husband, which will probably happen because I am in ill health even though he is older, is that all artwork will belong to him. I just want to make it easy on him and my sister to dispose of my artwork to make their lives easier and less stressful. So, I must put in my will something to guide them in what to do. I have gotten some wonderful ideas to think about -AAWR, Auction, non-profits, estate sales, POBA.org, Charites, a reception where any attendee can take home one work of art, churh auction, etc.
These are wonderful ideas. I will decide on one or more and be sure to leave it in writing for my loved ones to achieve. This is a difficult time for older artists. This is something I never thought would be of concern to me because I thought that my artwork would be more in demand (hope springs eternal). Sadly, this has not happened. Good luck to all.
Anything I’m not happy with, I resurface (if canvas) and paint over. I have a number of these pieces that I contemplate doing that with, but not many. (Or turn the canvas over and reground it.)
One of my most treasured art acquisitions was retrieved from a dumpster when my artist friend was moving and had no choice but to get rid of paintings. Fortunately I was there to rescue the canvas that has hung on my wall for decades. I am currently in the process of removing my own paintings from the stretchers and rolling them up. They’ll hang out in the studio until it becomes overcrowded again. I’ll take one last look and then toss them out. It’s a shame that decades of work is dumped. On the other hand, every painting is a learning opportunity, and at the time it was created answered the question, “What could this be? “— a stepping stone to the next composition.
Yes, I’ve had an elderly friend contemplate this issue, with a lot of amateur printmaking work on paper done late in life. It was sophisticated, appealing, contemporary but very varied style/content. She considered donating it to doctors’ offices, nursing homes, etc. so it could add interest to sometimes bleak settings.
I also have a bit of work of my late mother’s – a professional artist and teacher. She had sold most of her work through her career to individuals, and latterly through a small gallery, but was very prolific. The owner rejected her very late work as it showed decline of Alzheimers’ syndrome. I kept a few of these out of love and interest, but a bunch were given to the local school art teacher (who knew my mum) to paint over.
Overall, there might have been a market for prints of my mum’s work – but she never took good photos!
It’s not my fault. It is the paintings responsibility to attract the owner. I say to the painting, your owner is taking way too long to claim you, and you are sitting on a really nice birchwood panel I could use for another painting.
Without any formal ceremony, I usually remove the staples fold it up, then toss it. One of three fates are likely. My friend retrieves it, hangs it on her wall, then asks if I would re-stretch it. (no) Afterwards, I have received on two separate instances people inquiring about the very paintings I had just destroyed a week earlier. How did they know? What took them so long? Third fate: uncovered in an archeological dig by a future civilization.
I am a photographer and I have my work on a web site that sells the photographs for me, takes in the money, prints and ships and sends me the amount I asked to me. The best part is they don’t charge much per year. The bad part is I don’t sell much, but I am not interested in making a living or making a lot of money as I am retired, this is just my hobby. I just do it so I will have somewhere to show my work other than on my own computer. I have left instructions to just leave it on that web site as long as there is enough print sales to pay for the yearly charge. Who knows maybe my photos will be discovered and I’ll be famous, (just kidding). But as long as the site is being paid for out of sales, the photographs might as well be on the web site as anywhere else, and maybe my wife and/or children will make enough to go and have dinner in my name.
When my Father passed away in 1993 (a prolific painter and art teacher) my brothers and I had planned a retrospective of his artwork. 30 odd years later this still has not happened. My wife who is a photographer, photographed all the work and we
documented each piece, some 300 or 400 works, Canvas, Paper, and a few sculptures. As our lives moved forward with bringing up children and concentrating on our careers there seemed little time or extra finances to arrange this show of my Dad’s work. So today with adult children we are still hoping for this. Documentation and preservation of the artwork is key many dating back to the 50s. We were told that it was important to keep his work as a collection, that way having greater value.
I had a friend that (over 70) began destroying her work because she didn’t know what to do with it. I can’t imagine what drover her to that, but she was unwilling to find ways to sell her art at any cost.
I, on the other hand, am still working on both selling older “backstock,” as well as creating new Work. At the age of 67. I don’t plan on stopping (unless I become physically/mentally unable) either for the forseeable future. I have dedicated too many years and too much energy in the creation of my ‘children,’ to just throw all of that work away. (I have over 1300 pieces of Art, and 30k images of Photography).
If you have money left over from your B-job career, consider finding an Agent (with not too high fees) to find ‘placement’ for our work. (If you were not a hobbyist, but a serious Artist.) Otherwise, yes, give your work away to family and friends who will enjoy it.
I told my son to have a big yard sale and to give out the rest at the wake and funeral as door gifts. lol
When my aunt died, all of her paintings were in closets and in storage. She had never sold anything. But it was put up for auction along with her house furnishings, and the proceeds went to support her sister who had Alzheimers.
I look at my huge collection of unsold work and wonder what to do. I have to assume that if no one wanted it when it was put out for sale, then it has no value, except for the frames that could be reused. I have started giving some unframed work to Goodwill, and every now and then I go in to see if it is gone. I don’t know what they do with unsold stuff. But, I actually will just leave it to my estate manager who can do with it what she wills when I’m gone.
Here’s what I’m planning for now if my husband, Wes, outlives me.
I have a good friend who is an art lover AND an event planner/salesperson.
I have instructed my husband to contact her if I die or become disabled.
She has already agreed to run a by-invitation-only fundraiser with proceeds from artwork and art equipment/materials/supplies to go toward helping Wes with living expenses. People who know me and loved me will likely be eager to do something meaningful to help him.
The invitation list will include all people from my newsletter list, past collectors, close friends, family, and artists from groups I belong to.
Once that fundraiser is over, there will be a second one for the general public with higher prices (to encourage higher attendance in the invitation-only one).
If creating a sense of urgency works while I’m alive, why not use that to help my beloved one after I’m gone?
What Wes does with any unsold work and art stuff after that will be up to him.
Oops, just realized I can’t give out my subscriber email list to anyone else. Any suggestions?
I’m dealing with this right now as a widow of an artist who died unexpectedly 2 years ago. John Barrett was an artist who had suffered a brain injury when he was a child and had learning disabilities with spelling and reading. He was hard to categorize because he wasn’t a complete outsider artist, and he could do all types of art, but he loved painting cartoons on large canvases. He sold smaller art over the years and showed in a few places, but he didn’t fit in most galleries. So, people didn’t get to see what he did up close. When he died my first thought was if Van Goghs sister-in-law didn’t step up, we wouldn’t get to see his art today. And my second thought was Andy Warhol put a lot of his stuff in shoe boxes to be opened at a later date. For the 1st nine months I went through every place in the house that he had sketches laying around and loosely sorted them in sleeves. Then because we knew a lot of artists, I got all their letters and put them together. I found everything that talked about him, posters, newspapers, letters he had gotten responses too and a video of him speaking about mental health etc. While I did that, I took pictures for documentation purposes and put it out on my YouTube channel hairandart and then I started cold calling galleries, colleges, newspapers, and our local Museum. The art director and curator came over and decided to give him a show Memorial/retrospective which will be in September 2023 even though they didn’t know him. Right now, I’m looking back through those sleeves of sketches to try and fill in dates and names of the large paintings that he had finished before he died. I don’t know where this will go but I have to take it a day at a time. I also have to take care of the artwork of a few other artists that we have that were more well known and were John’s friends. I don’t want to have to do a bonfire, but I was considering mixing his ashes into one of his unfinished bronzes.
Some times hospitals and public buildings as well as professional businesses will take framed art if not too large.
I have put into my will, that upon my death all unsold work is to be distroyed.