What Should an Artist do With a Lifetime of Unsold Artwork?

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.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. 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!

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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….

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    Any suggestions?

    1. 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.

    2. 😂 😂😂 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!

    3. You sound like the kind of guy I’d like to share a happy hour with. Cheers, virtually, to you and your pyramid.

  10. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

    3. 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! 🙂

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

    1. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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).

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  25. 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…

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

    1. 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.

  29. 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.

    1. 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.)

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. Jason,

    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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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!

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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).

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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…

  45. 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?

  46. 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…

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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!

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

    one grateful Friend.
    Linde Gold

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.) 🙁

  56. 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.

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