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.

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85 Comments

  1. I was also wondering what to do with over 300 canvases. Having been diagnosed with ALS, I would like to reduce my inventory to pay for my upcoming and current medical treatments and needs. I would be most interested in comments or suggestions.

    1. Check into tick borne diseases and getting in to see a Lyme Literate doctor before you accept the ALS diagnosis, try anti-biotic therapies. Lou Gehrig’s parents were German immigrants who were Jewish and he was an American hero in the times leading up to the war while the Nazis were in power. They had agents all over America doing their dirty deeds.

      1. I have had some success with placing works in hospital foundations which promote hospital walls as galleries. They may only take works as gifts in kind for a tax receipt, but I know the selection process is rigorous. The joy and healing artworks give to patients and care-givers alike is tremendous. Another possibility is to approach public galleries with permanent collections, again as gifts in kind, in return for a charitable donation.
        Not only do I have my own works but those I’ve collected over a long period of time. Now, what to do with it as I must downsize? It’s a massive project for me.

    2. A couple ideas would be gifts or donations to organizations that you are interested in supporting.

      You could also use social media to do a free giveaway that could share your artwork while also leading others to a website where they could purchase art from you.

  2. I have a friend who inherited a large collection of work by a well-known New Orleans artist. After cataloguing the work and with the help of a dealer, she spent several years trying to sell or donate the work without success. Finally she decided to make a book to show the work and, after a few trips to New Orleans, found shops to carry the book. The result has been book sales, sales of the work and interest from some institutions who could accept donations.

    But that only works if you have time and desire to do all this.

    An equally valid approach is to give the work continued life in the hands of those who enjoy it. Consider using your friends as a network to distribute the work. Those who get a piece commit to finding someone else who would like one.

    The saddest outcome would be for the paintings to end up in storage where it will be easy for them, and your story behind them, to be forgotten.

    1. OK! I have read everyone’s reply down to the last one. My brilliant idea is…a person, younger than us older artists who will have work after we pass, could open a gallery advertising unsold, unloved, unclaimed, inherited art work for a very reasonable price.

      Can someone be inspired to create with this idea? We could all our kids send you our works after we pass? Perhaps it could be a nonprofit gallery for a charity…”Save the Wild Horses!”.

      However…there were great ideas in these replies. I especially like the memorial for everyone to pick out what they want…burn the rest and have a marshmallow roast…preferably smores!

      1. Well — yes, but…

        Our local museum just had a “leftovers sale”, getting rid of unwanted paintings and art from their collection/storage container, at very cheap prices. Several local artists were upset by this garage-sale kind of mentality. The feeling is that the garage sale undercuts the valuation of their other works.

        I like your charity idea

        1. I agree with the charity idea. There are charities for just about any cause and more than likely they would love a donation of art that relates to the cause they are passionate about, either as an item to auction off or for display.

          That being said, it does require a commitment of time and effort. But if someone put their heart and soul into a work of art it would be such a shame for it to just be discarded.

      2. Wonderful response and ideas! I especially like the bonfire and smores. Fire is cleansing … and then pour the ashes in a fast moving river or ocean at the beach. Thanks…left me feeling good.

  3. I was left with numerous oil “field sketches” by an artist grand uncle, as well as many larger framed paintings. I have kept those that I love (just a few, since I am also an artist) and donated the remaining paintings to an art museum in the community where my grand uncle lived. They are selling these paintings off, a few at a time, at auctions to raise money for the art museum. In this case, my grand uncle was well known as an artist by the community, and many of his scenes are of recognizable locations, so the art museum was happy to accept my donation. Attending some of their auctions, I have been glad to see that a few of his 8×10 field studies have sold for around $500, so it’s been rewarding to have helped the art museum raise funds.

  4. Hi Jason,
    There are so many charities that struggle to keep afloat and survive through events such as art auctions. Perhaps these artists or survivors could find some charities who would love to have some art to auction off at their events. I try to always give art to these non-profits to help them with funding for all the services they provide…

  5. Recently I was trolling the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore in my community for special finds and stumbled across 20+ oil paintings all by the same artist. Having owned a gallery in the past and also as an artist, I could attest that these works were very good. So I grabbed a cart and began loading as many as I could as they were marked for sale for just $2.50 each. As others saw me hurriedly stockpiling, several people came over to see what my frenzy was about. I mentioned to them that though I did not personally know this artist, that these paintings must have been donated to the ReStore by someone who did not appreciate good art or did not know what to do with them. As I explained to the onlookers that it saddened me to see such beautiful work be sold for mere pennies, to my surprise, every onlooker began to look at the paintings in a new light. All but one selected a painting (some took 2) and happily purchased them. Two individuals even asked if they could buy a couple in my shopping cart (of course I said yes). While this is not the perfect scenario as an answer to your question, Jason, I was deeply delighted to see people who obviously could not afford to purchase a quality piece of original art do exactly that. I can only imagine each piece being hung in their humble homes in a place of honor and providing them the opportunity to not only tell their friends and family that they own an original oil painting but also them spending countless hours studying the painting and learning to appreciate what the artist gave of him or herself. So, if I have any remaining unsold paintings at the end of my life, I have it written in my will to give these pieces (some currently valued at over $6K) to those who love art but do not have the means to purchase them. It would be my honor.

  6. I am a 68 year old artist and I’m planning NOT to leave a huge number of paintings for my brothers to contend with; as they live far away and will fly here for a weekend to put my house on the market. My mother died leaving many paintings so I have seen the whole process. I have not been purchasing any new canvases but rather painting over my least favorite painting, followed by my next least, etc.
    Also, I find that I see mistakes in earlier paintings and rather than start a new one, I improve on the old one, so that my body of work improves- I work in acrylic, so paint-over works well.
    It seems that few young people have interest in the art of folks my age.
    If we give away all of our art upon our death, there will be a glut of free art out there, probably already is, and even fewer buyers will purchase art. Then what?
    My strategy is just enjoy the act of painting and showing and not think about selling.

    1. Hello Priscilla, I had to do something similar. I am 62 and my husband and I have just moved to a new province. We needed to do a major purge before we left. When going through the massive amount of canvases I had accumulated, I told myself, if it is a good painting OR on good quality canvas, then I will have the option to paint over it in my new location. If it was a bad practice piece on cheap canvas, into the fire pit it went. Burning some of them actually made me feel somewhat free! I took a few school pieces from my college years that were okay (not too embarrasing) but really trashed the rest. Now I am left with a better inventory and an understanding of the phrase “It’s all just stuff!”

    2. In my seventies and have become close friends with a sanding block and gesso! I look at some of my early work and shudder – Away with you! Don’t need to buy canvas.

      I often see very good art in thriftstores for just a few dollars. A bit sad.

      Like the earlier idea of a bonfire and smores with survivors/remainders. (smile)

    3. First of all, at 68 you are young! Very possibly your best creations are ahead of you. It’s all in the attitude. I started my third business when I turned 69 and just now sold it, 14 years later, so I could devote more time to my painting. Since last Thanksgiving I’ve completed 64 paintings and hope to hit 125 by next June. The best years are ahead…why slow down. I will add that because of a petty incident I laid my brushes down when I was seventeen and never picked them up again for sixty-five years. My bad..

  7. A dear friend and student of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had many paintings. He booked a country club and had a party for all his friends and relatives along with a showing of his art which was beautifully displayed. Some of his work was available for purchase directly, and some had silent auction bid sheets. He treated everyone to a catered dinner and was able to reminisce and say farewell to everyone. All his work sold for the asking price and above. He donated all the artwork proceeds to a palliative care facility at the hospital where his physicians worked. All told he donated over 30k to the hospital. It was an uplifting and beautiful event. Friends and family secured in his paintings memories of a beautiful man with a life well lived. His artwork served as a generous gift to the community and an inspiration.

  8. I have heard that some folks have left paintings outside a store and put “for free” on them. I usually do paint overs so I don’t have so many art pieces. And I am in my 70’s and not as motivated to promote my art.

    1. I have that dilemma now. Framed Etchings that I’ve had in a gallery did not sell. I would have stayed with this great gallery but had to pay $100. monthly and give a percentage also. I sold works but not enough to actually make money! Is that what you’ve called ‘Vanity Gallery’? So I am going to slowly give them away to local fundraisers.

    2. I’m 76. I’m fortunate to be able to paint or work toward promoting, showing or selling my work everyday. I have booked exhibits through most of 2020. This past weekend I attended 2 local group shows I was in and another I’m going to submit to the jury next time they have a call. Im currently attending an 8 week painting workshop and have a small business class I’ve gone to for a couple of years. I have every intention of continuing this pace until I drop.
      Certainly I’ll have inventory when I’m unable to keep working. Ive talked to family and friends about that. We’ve talked about distributions of paintings. After that, I don’t know. Today, I have a goal and direction. I’ve put my mind and energy into obtaining it.

  9. Resonant article again, Jason.
    I’m the older artist so this is apropos to my current condition. I looked at some of my work from a decade ago and also some work from my earliest endeavors. I am more productive now, but still without representation or much notoriety. Still, I pursue that idea that some gallery somewhere will see that I am future oriented and take a chance.
    Friends close and otherwise like that i am an artist but not much interest in my work. My family is essentially my sister and my daughter and her husband. We’ve already talked about what she and he will be facing. They genuinely like my work but would be hard pressed to keep it.
    Let’s not even mention cousins.
    I believe some of my most recent work will be important later if only it were better known, but right now, a bonfire may be in the offing. My thought is to advertise it ahead of time for anyone interested to come and watch (and maybe collect a piece or two). Painful but realistic.

    1. Robert Genn did this with what he considered his less than best.
      I’m thinking of this when will will be downsizing.
      Or taking a load with my name sanded off to a not near town and off loading at the goodwill.

    2. Here’s my two cents…when I finish a sculpture and don’t like it , if it is greenware I reconstitute it and use it again. If it has been fired, I have been throwing it in the trash. I now have an idea to build an outdoor small library that will also have space for pieces I don’t want. I like the idea of others having some artwork they otherwise couldn’t afford, and it could get some conversations going and maybe bring people to my studio!

  10. What I’ve seen through the years, and experienced first-hand is that we are not culturally prepared for death and its aftermath. As a career academic (I taught university photography and visual media) I was frequently approached by people seeking advice on donating work (and equipment, especially during the transition from film-based photography to digital imaging). It is true that, sometimes, institutions (university library, history/cultural centers, museums) are interesting in accepting donated work, but not often. What we leave behind is often a burden on the immediate family. Interestingly, the Swedes have a term for how best to deal with this: döstädning. A google search will turn up a number of articles and several books on the subject.

    1. I am involved with a local non-profit art organization that also owns and runs a gallery. One of it’s long standing members passed away. The family donated the works to the nonprofit gallery. Several of us donated our time and expertise organizing a show of his work, and all works were for sale. We were able to move a good deal of the work and the proceeds benefited the nonprofit. It was a win/win.

  11. I’m in my 60s so no doubt the issue will raise its not too friendly head sooner than later.
    However, I have documented my work meticulously, I believe on spreadsheets and word documents, in effect a detailed catalogue.
    My family have loads of pieces by me, so I don’t think they will want stacks more canvases / watercolours etc….not to mention drawing books!
    I’m fortunate that I hopefully will have the chance to discuss this issue with my family…soon!
    I once had a part time job for a UK charity called Age Concern. At one of their regional centres they had a warehouse of art and artefacts stored, that had been left to them etc… I remember seein a medium sized oil painting being taken for a display in a branch shop window some miles away. It was figurative, heavy impasto oil paint. Subject was a group of soldiers in a 1st World War trench…the artist had scribbled the word ‘Somme’ very roughly in the bottom left corner. It’s resonance was, as far as I am concerned was felt immediately. One of our much younger team members saw it also and asked if ‘Somme’ was the name of the artist…
    So someone’s anonymous efforts from years ago still spoke…

  12. I am in my 80’s and have been successful in selling most of my work thoughout my long career: however, not everything finds a home, as we all know. Lately, I’ve had a unique experience. When a friend or family member “loves” a piece, I offer it to them as a gift, with the caveat that it’s up to them to pay the shipping, which can be in the hundreds of dollars at times. Without fail, the aforesaid friend sends me more than the shipping would have been, and we are both delighted. Currrently, there are times when my inventory goes low, and I need to paint like a crazy person to catch up.

  13. Donations to organizations settling families and individuals in secure housing such as Habitat For Humanity, refugee and homeless. What a wonderful feeling to know you are bringing art to people who previously didn’t even have walls to hang art on.

  14. I am an artist myself and my work does sell ..mostly.. However, I have found fun art which I happily place in my guest room..and I found them at flea markets and yard sales ..also at salvation army. There is no reason why individuals with limited means can’t purchase at a thrift store. I say to keep a few pieces you love and then spread the rest around to thrift stores. Also, put an ad in Craig’s list under yard sale and art..do a yard sale of just art then donate the rest. You’d make a bit of cash and a lot of people happy.

  15. I try to weed out works periodically. I used to have an incinerator when it was legal to burn outside in California.( I destroyed some I shouldn’t have.) Now I have to send stuff to the landfill.

    With prints and drawings? The recycle bin.

    I give works to Art auctions for charities as well as giving them to friends. There’s always the thrift shops.

  16. Growing up in a third world country, has it advantages. I remember in college, because of lack of funds to purchase canvas, I use to recycled my canvases. Today, I still do so and it’s more easier. 1st – I’ll take a photo of the piece for my portfolio. 2nd – I’ll see if there is anyway I can improve the piece. 3rd- I’ll if I can use the canvas in a collage or assemblage. 4th- I can always use the frame to stretch another canvas.

  17. A friend of mine mentioned recently that a charity providing temporary housing for refugees was looking for paintings to put on the walls. How about asking local charities, hospitals and old people’s homes. If the paintings are bright and cheerful, a school might be interested. Hold a garage sale with an arty theme. Some people might love to own a genuine art work but not be able to afford one under normal circumstances.

  18. I agree with Georgia (comment above). After friends and family have taken what they want, why not give the remainder to Habitat for Humanity or the Salvation Army. Rather than destroy it, why not give strangers the option of enjoying it. Let them throw it away if no one wants it.

    1. After reading all the comments, I got to thinking what else could be done with surplus artwork. Yard and art sales, charities and museums, and free for the taking were all good suggestions.

      When I was teaching, I’d take some of my oil paintings and decorate my classrooms with them. At the end of the year, I gifted the artwork to the student with the highest GPA as an incentive for excellence in the classroom.

      Perhaps some of the artwork could be donated to schools to decorate their walls or to raise funds.

      Some work could be donated to Libraries and to local hospitals to hang on their walls.

      On the premise of yard and art sales: an “Art Sale” could be organized and earmarked for proceeds to go to a specific charity.

      But, I must admit that in some of my leaner years, I bought artwork at thrift stores and flea markets just to paint over them with my own work. And, I always wondered about the artists whose artwork I was obliterating. Felt guilty about it.

      If an artist took the time to paint and frame it, it should be worth something to someone and shouldn’t just be given to the landfills, the flea markets or to the flames. True artists and their artwork shouldn’t be forgotten so easily.

  19. This comment pertains to the artist in her 90″s and may not even be applicable. There are a couple of death taxes – inheritance and estate. Estate taxes less likely since the federal exemption is $5.45 million and most states use that same amount; however, two that don’t are Massachusetts and Oregon and they have a $1 million exemption – which could be reached more easily than you might think when you consider your home, furniture, jewelry, artwork, etc.

    Inheritance tax is only at the state level and only six states have it, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Each state is different but more likely to be applicable.

    There are ways around this and by donating to a charitable cause you may reap some tax advantages while living (you might be best off doing this in increments) or you might want to use the gift tax exemptions. ( I have willed mine to an charitable animal cause.) It might be possible to reduce Estate taxes (if applicable) with a bequest to a charitable cause as well.

    If you think that any of this might apply, get with a tax accountant for advice and guidance. Keep in mind that tax laws change – probably more often than any other taxes and the Democrats have been trying to reinstall the inheritance tax at the Federal level (therefore all states). You might want a contingency for that.

  20. Have a show of the persons artwork, as a memorial to that person. Sell, sell, sell. Market it well. Do a big bio on the person, and maybe music at the show. Could involve the local radio station with some kind of drawing for a free piece.

  21. I am the artist..68 years young, now, but old enough to start contemplating such ideas.

    Recently I offered one of my paintings to the annual auction of an art guild I joined that’s located in a major city in the midwest, USA. The jury committee welcomed the painting; and, next year I plan to offer 2 other paintings that a deceased artist created.

    I discovered that my oldest paintings make for wonderful underpaintings for new ones that I’m working on.. These hybridb paintings are some of my best paintings; and, several were invited to an international art fair in Chicago this past May, 2019.

    Since I plan to live longer than my 68 years, I hope to enjoy painting and selling a little while longer.

  22. our local art group has addressed this question recently as we are all older ladies. We still feel compelled to paint but since we live in a small town there isn’t much of a market for our paintings, though we sell occasionally. I have decided that when I die I have set aside money for my family to rent a small room and have an art memorial for me instead of a traditional funeral and invite all my friends, co workers and family. I want all my artwork displayed and anyone that wants a painting can just take it home, whatever they want. Then any left over should be donated to a local humane society to be used to generate money for them-I paint mostly animal art.

  23. Hi Jason, it happened again. My comment (dissertation) should have been a general comment and not a reply to someone. Please, can you fix it?

  24. I have a problem in a similar vein in that I’ve retired from producing stained glass pieces but have a collection of original patterns used to produce the panels, lamps etc. Most of the patterns are for production pieces but there are also a number of them that are for one of a kind art pieces. Any suggestions as to what to do with them?

  25. Artists!!! 60, 70, 80 +++, you are not old!!!! You need to keep working on it if it is your passion!!!! It keeps you young, keeps you engaged. Keep working on improving your work, and growing with it. This is VERY important!. Okay, paint over things you do not love if you wish, but keep working as long as you are able. Artists NEED to create. Keep yourself growing as long as you possibly can! Thank you!
    (I am 75. Am not old; have a few health issues but that is not relevant…)

    1. Virginia, you are spot on! I am 69 — and back in college to get my degree in Fine Art/Studio Painting. Never too late! I too have a few health issues (who doesn’t?) but see them as irrelevant to my goals. I’ve gleaned some wonderful ideas from the many comments here — and love the idea of using some of my early paintings as underpaintings for new work. Can’t wait to try it! I love gifting my work, sell some pieces, have a few hung on display at the college (such an honor!) and eventually will settle into some sort of marketing scheme. In the meantime, if I were to die, I hope my family would claim their favorites and give the rest to someplace like Habitat for Humanity to brighten someone’s new home… Great ideas, Everyone!

  26. My daughter has instructions to distribute favorite pieces to immediate family members. What’s left is to be taken to my memorial service at church and allow those who attend to take their pick. The rest goes to Habitat for Humanity.

  27. Jason, this is a topic I am always thinking of when I’m going through old inventory or my mother’s paintings. I’ve found that nonprofits love to get donations of paintings to auction off. Find one that you support and offer your paintings to them. Another idea is to tape an anonymous note to a painting and leave it in a park, bus bench, or someplace where a stranger will find it, and brighten their day with it. I’ve done that with some small paintings and I’ve known other artists to do this. Our local news station picked up a story like this that someone reported after finding a painting. It was quite moving how it changed this person’s outlook when they were struggling with personal issues. I can only hope my little paintings brought this much joy to someone who found them. I realize this process may take a long time to get rid of a big inventory of paintings, but it’s worth it.

  28. The “daily painting” idea is popular right now. Imagine if 10,000 artists each painted one every few days (say, 200 a year), that’s two million paintings a year. Even the thrift stores can’t deal with that many.

  29. All of us oldies with a large body of work should get together and have group shows— perhaps regionally—donate a % of the proceeds to an agreed upon good cause;& split the rest between those hosting/promoting & the artists.

    When I die, i want friends and family to take what they like; and the rest auctioned to benefit my favorite environmental group.

      1. I live in southern Maine and would love to join you, if possible. I go by LJ Rankin on Facebook. Let me know your thoughts.

  30. I am 73 and a retired University Art Lecturer. I contribute to two local galleries, one of which I am a stakeholder in and contribute one day a week as an artist on duty/demonstrator. Sales are modest and just paying the rent, but I am enjoying the connections made with appreciating clients. I have built up an inventory of past unsold works. Some of these have been award-winning entries in competitions. My aim is that after my family have selected pieces that they wish to own, the remainder is to be donated to a Buddhist hospice. The hospice has an annual art auction with donated pieces to raise funds to continue their important work. This they provide as beds, medication and voluntary doctors administration free to terminally ill patients who wish to pass in comfort in their own homes. I think it pays to pay it forward.

  31. This represents my best considered disposition of my remaining artworks when I pass.
    I can think of no better way to dispose of my inventory of unsold works collected over many years.
    I hope this inspires other “Pay it forward” solutions from other elderly artists with unsold works.

  32. Take a look at the organization POBA = poba.org. “POBA is a groundbreaking online arts hub that celebrates and features the works of exceptional artists who have died without recognition of the full measure of their talents or creative legacies, regardless of artistic genres and mediums.”
    I wanted to keep the great work of Raphael Boguslav available after his death and this is where it landed.

  33. I think a big part of the issue, is creating PR and “buzz” around a collection, by possibly an interview about the artist, in local media, and a history of their live- hopefully with some great stories or insights around current hot topics. I.e.: women who kept painting despite the demands of their daily lives and sacrifices, men who started late after retirement, and became quite impressive in their skills, or a unique insight and perception about their times, and/or history around them, both globally and next door. Charles Burchfield with his wonderful journal notes about his paintings, is poetic visually and in word, and makes a very intimate connection with a viewer/reader. I think this PR/buzz effort could even be narrowly focused to an organizations’ newsletter for fund raising from ongoing sales over time, (in addition to a one shot fundraiser) or used as a lovely way of communicating the groups mission while a small stream of sales are ongoing. That would also build a knowledge around the artist, that makes it more personal and connected to their interests, local, and times, which always supports wanting to have a piece of the work. Holiday gift giving, and even cards, etc, could be part of an ongoing effort. (Thinking “trickle down” economics here) lol. I think the book idea is fantastic, and again, a book in a bookstore is always around to capture attention, remind and establish the artist as recognized. Just some thoughts on using what works for the known artists, in building a market perhaps in smaller niches, and locals.

  34. Although this is slightly different scenario I feel it might be appropriate to mention. When my husband and I were moving into a different home I had accumulated some work (paintings and original prints) that had not passed “muster” — either not up to my exhibit standards or pieces that had not sold after being exhibited in a gallery. First I had my adult children pick out anything they wanted and then put a few into the donation pile for the local Goodwill and the rest I burned. A few months later I saw two of the pieces I had donated to the Goodwill (without my signature on the front but with my info on the backside along with a copyright symbol) on a “for sale” website. Someone had picked them up at the Goodwill and were reselling them! I responded to that person and asked that they take the images down as I had the copyright. I really didn’t care if they made a few bucks from them but I didn’t want the images online. I agree that friends and family often are the best way to “rehome” the art.

    1. I’m with you on destroying some pieces. I do that once or twice a year, and if it can’t be repurposed, or it’s not as good as it should be. Hopefully, I’ll know when I’ve reached that stage when I’m just not going to make much more new art and it’s time to start downsizing. I think if you choose recipients carefully it’s no more damage to your work’s future value than if you simply put it in your will and make people wait for your death.

      With a thrift store, you never have a chance to meet the buyer or have a sales contract that states that, by law, you retain copyrights (or your heir owns the copyright, whichever the case may be by then). The thrift store buyer, as with any buyer, has the right to resell the physical piece itself. (Right of first sale is what it’s known as, in the statutes it’s 17 USC 202.) But, glad they removed the online image of it when you requested it, as all it takes is one person slapping a good shot of art up on the internet for it to get spread all over where the artist may not want it, isn’t credited anyway, and where it quickly can be abused for other purposes. For the purpose of just reselling the piece though, I’m not sure one could always prevent that, that’s a good question for a copyright lawyer!

      Speaking of copyrights, artists should choose who they want to leave theirs to. It lasts for 70 yrs beyond the artist’s death, so it could provide income for heirs for a long time to come. If no one inherits it and no one’s keeping tabs on it, it’s not only lost income, but the images already floating around the net become more prone to abuse when no one is “watching the store.”

  35. Pre stretched canvases are a commodity to college art students. If the artist was an oil or acrylic painter, like I started out as, they will be delighted to have them to paint over. Only one Craigslist ad away from parting with them real fast, provided you have no sentimental attachment to the paintings. I gave away half a dozen of mine, plus one that someone gave me that I didn’t like, to the cute desk girl at the Bikram yoga studio I used to go to who mentioned that she was also a painter. same applies if the work you want to part with is in other media that contains valuable materials or is portable and desirable. I recently gave away a whole boxful of glass maple leaves, that were once part of a tree full of them that fell apart, to fellow students at the aerial arts studio I go to.

  36. Destroy what you don’t want to leave behind, even if it means a shredder or a bonfire. What is left, divide into painting over it to create somethng new, and what you are happy to leave as your legacy. Then think about who and where the work may be taken care of and appreciated. I say this because of remembering how some, now fairly famous women’s paintings (EG: Clarice Beckett, Jane Sutherland) have been found in horrible condition in the back of sheds, or the basements of galleries not conserved with any care.

  37. Thanks for sharing. This topic has been on my mind for a few years now since I turned 70. I have not solved the problem but believe someone is connected well enough to help form a non profit or create a mission as a subsidiary to an art college like the Art Institute’s throughout the US to form an auction process where work would be donated, auctioned, a modest percent kept for operating expenses and the rest would go into a scholarship program to help people in poor countries or difficult circumstances to help them get more education in the arts. I remember a fellow who took the full course at an Art Institute and they actually helped him get a job as he graduated. The course was expoensive too. He was still at that job 8 years later. I believe in “further the cause through helping less fortunate”. Presently I donate a few pieces a year to a Ribbons fund raiser for children with Aids. They sure need help but the arts is something which surely someone out there could help to organize nationwide. To see over thirty years of digital fine art on hard drives plus a studio full of work get tossed into a dumpster or given away for pennies without any assistance to kids with the passion for creativity, is hard to reconcile. If you have any connections and believe that you could further the cause to help, please start the process. Artists spend their lives trying to make it a better place to live and struggle all the way through.

  38. Aging artist here too. I have retired from the selling end, but just can’t stop painting. Sure you all understand that. So…my inventory is growing. I am to the point that I will have to get back on the road hitting a few of my favorite “Fine Art Shows” around the country. I will do my best to stay as close to home as possible, however, living in the Sticks of Montana, close is 400-500 miles. But I have to admit, I have missed being out there selling. I have an Artist Friend from Canada that used to have paintings and bronzes in my Gallery. He and I talked about what to do, and I said, “I have pre (name a year) sales, where I discount everything that I painted before the specified year” He said he refused to sell anything at a discount, it reduced the value of his work, which I do understand, so, he and a couple other artist friends of his have a bon-fire and burn everything in their inventory over a certain age. Lots of wine and colored smoke…Not sure I could do that, each piece has some special meaning to me. It would be like distroying an old friendship…So, I think I am going to hit the road again, and maybe this Christmas do a few of the local bazaars, with some big discounts on older paintings, allowing friends and neighbors to purchase a piece at a price they can afford. It is a delima for sure.

  39. I’m 76. I’m fortunate to be able to paint or work toward promoting, showing or selling my work everyday. I have booked exhibits through most of 2020. This past weekend I attended 2 local group shows I was in and another I’m going to submit to the jury next time they have a call. Im currently attending an 8 week painting workshop and have a small business class I’ve gone to for a couple of years. I have every intention of continuing this pace until I drop.
    Certainly I’ll have inventory when I’m unable to keep working. Ive talked to family and friends about that. We’ve talked about distributions of paintings. After that, I don’t know. Today, I have a goal and direction. I’ve put my mind and energy into obtaining it.

  40. I plan to have an “Open Studio Sale” — not in my condo, which would be against their rules, but in an appropriate setting close by — I’ll pay for the one day rental and ask two other artists to share the space and rent with me. I will show the majority of my paintings and craft items at a considerable discount, and some of my unused and surplus art supplies as well. Publicity will be mostly on social media. I’m hoping to get rid of a lot of this “stuff,” but we’ll see. The rest I’ll probably give to friends, family, and charities.

  41. I paint in acrylics. With paintings I didn’t want to keep, I painted them over with leftover paint from my palette– paint that was too stiff for detail but would cover an area (which also recycled the stiff paint). I then donated those to a thrift store that sells art supplies. I’ve also removed my signature from some studies that weren’t bad but didn’t sell for years, and donated the painting to a regular thrift store.

  42. I have been creating art for around 40 years and most of my work is in collections. I sell the work, exhibit, donate work, and I gave some to each of my three sons. I have around 10 paintings and 12 glass sculptures in my space that I kept which represent different periods I went through in my art creating process. Lots of images.

  43. Interesting idea to just cover the unwanted paintings with gesso or paint (neutral or random) after selling or gifting as many as you can. Then give them to student art organizations, schools, nursing homes, art therapy groups, or thrift shops so that someone else can use them. Ditto with brushes, easels, and other art supplies.

    I appreciate the efforts of the writer above who wants to perpetuate the name of a really good but underappreciated artist. But that represents a small percentage of the tens of thousands of us who enjoy painting, but really only build up an inventory of personally fulfilling but mediocre work that even a fundraiser auction wouldn’t want.

  44. I am not waiting until I die to give away artwork. I sell in a local Gallery. When items do not sell they return to the Studio. My children and friends may have whichever unsold piece they like. Some of the unsold pieces are donated to charity auctions.I prefer to share rather than store what I create.

  45. Also up in age, I have painted for over 50 years and to this day continue to improve without much fame or fortune, but I have been truly blessed. Reading all your wonderful comments reminded me when artist Richard Diebenkorn talked to our painting class. He told the students that though in his 60s he was just being considered as an important American artist and was the youngest among the few to reach such fame. Recently, one of Diebenkorn’s paintings sold for over a million dollars. He continued by telling us that the road to such recognition is arduous and that the majority of us would give up and stop creating altogether because the frustrations would be too much to bear. Those few that would make it to the summit of fame would be old on arrival. That is when I decided to create for the joy of it, like dancing or singing in celebration of life, but life isn’t that simple. “Man is a political animal,” said Aristotle. At 72, I am painting a 50 children series standing up against climate change, which I believe to be a catastrophic threat to our children and grandchildren’s future. Thus far the series is filled with pathos, and it is rewarding to see children being empowered through the paintings. My exhibitions have become a forum for reversing carbon emissions. I plan to tour the series to wherever will welcome me, raising awareness through a child’s beauty of all ethnicities and religions. (If interested see them at Facebook @APina.artist) Artist are creators, therefore, destroying artwork does not appeal to me. I am not wealthy, but feel blessed. My wife and I have decided and begun the process of setting up a foundation and donating the entire children’s series to it to raise money for the fund. The intention is to help with the many needs children are facing and will face in a changing planet. If you cannot find a worthy cause to leave your paintings to, create one. I send you, peace, blessings, and love.

  46. Good article! Been dealing with this already-I have had a lot of inventory because I paint a lot- to learn and get better. That said I also dump or paint over most of it. Not only does my pride not want crappy pieces left for the world to see I also don’t want to burden my family with “oh great now what do we do with all this”. If I were left with another’s work I would photograph it first, try eBay at reasonable prices. Then donate to a charity store. That way the work will still be purchased and enjoyed and the charity is helped! All good. I am telling my family this as well for any left overs they don’t want. I think we as artists place way too much value on the finished work instead of the process. Others place value and that’s great but when you are gone we can’t expect others to set up an art shrine for us. Do your family a favor and clear it out!

  47. There is a local group in my state called Healing Ceilings. They offer artists ceiling tiles to paint that are later installed in oncology centers so patients who are being treated with chemo may see up-lifting sights while they are there. Another thought would be at Dialysis facilities. It has been very successful here. I also donate pieces for auction for local groups looking to raise money. One’s doctor’s office might like a painting or 2. Once you sit down and make up a list you will find plenty of places that would love paintings. Think of all the people you associate with regularly…banker, minister, school administrator, dentist, restaurant, etc.

  48. A very interesting topic, thats for sure. Faced with painting over load I traded a bunch of paintings for a crypto currency which hopefully at some point it will pay off. Long story but the value is a nice figure a few years later…. On other fronts I offered my paintings to friends and family and asked for donations. I explained how much work went into them and the current value. If they didn’t have money to spend I was happy to receive whatever they had to give or they could just take the work home.

  49. I taught art at a high school for 30 years. Often we were given donations of everything from Aunt Martha’s body of work to 1400 pieces of artwork collected by a national bank that they no longer wanted to display in their branch offices. We took everything we could get. If it was good enough to resell, we tried to do that, and put the money toward our art program. Most of the art was not that outstanding. We painted over canvasses. We cannibalized frames and mats and glass. Most schools do not have sufficient art budgets. Donations of the sort really help art programs that help teachers and further art instruction to deserving students. There are so many creative possibilities for an art teacher who is given the donation of unwanted artwork. My students won art awards and sold their artwork at high school art shows and
    competitions using donated canvases and framed art. Because of these types of donations, parents were able to hang artwork in their homes. Something that they had never been able to do previously. I currently teach a free class for veterans in Medford, New Jersey. I would gladly and enthusiastically except any unwanted canvases, framed art, or supplies that were no longer wanted.

  50. After reading all these comments, I think I will take some time to visit local thrift shops…LOL. An older friend of mine passed away. Her daughter had a beautiful memorial in an auditorium and displayed a great deal of her paintings. When it was over, we were each allowed to bring one home.

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