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.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

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 ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

104 Comments

  1. Depending on what kind of art is involved, I would seek out charitable institutions who would welcome inexpensive decoration – especially if it relates to their function or to the area in which they operate. For example, a soup kitchen or the community meeting hall or meeting rooms for churches, halls of the local university, offices of the Salvation Army, Red Cross, or any other organization supported by the artist during his or her lifetime.

    Another avenue would be thrift stores where poor people could afford a nice piece of work.

    1. I’m 65, married and have a very small family. I’ve given this very problem a lot of thought and also implemented a method of destroying paintings. The last thing I want to do is burden them with a studio full of bad paintings.
      This protects their emotions, my reputation and my patrons investment. I also scrape fresh paintings on the easel if failed. I’d rather loose the effort than live with the remains of a bad painting.

      1. Good advise. My husband’s grandfather was a fairly well-known artist. We were tasked with the chore of destroying less than prime pieces he had done in order to protect his name. And they were less than the quality he would have desired (which is why they were stuck in a back closet) with the design a bit off or the execution not up to par – obvious practice pieces. Some of the remaining ones were divided up among the surviving members of the family down into the great grandchildren. Others are being release gradually into known auction houses or among galleries who have become familiar with his work even after he passed away.
        If the art is truly good and a family member cares to promote it, there can still be a market for it.

  2. Assuming that the paintings are at least minimally saleable, one might conduct a Charity Art Auction for a specific cause. The proceeds would pay for advertising/space rental – and the rest would go to the declared charity.

    The remainder could go to Goodwill and, potentially, could bring a tax deduction.
    The paintings could be appraised based on comparable sales made in the past.
    A lot of people appreciate a surprise Goodwill find!

    1. FWIW: Goodwill is a for profit company. They do help people, but most people don’t realize it isn’t non profit.

      1. Goodwill is a non-profit. It’s a 501 (c)(3) organization. Salvation Army is the one that is not technically a non-profit, as it is a religious organization.

  3. I have this problem and several storage units full of work dating back to the 70’s. I was a successful gallery artist with lots of sales but galleries close during the several recessions we have experienced since 1970. I find new galleries are not so interested in my work anymore…and the LA art scene is a man’s world.
    I am 76 and still have an active studio.
    I donate work to university and non profits who auction my sculptures for good prices. I have received grants but in the end my work will end up at the dump.

    1. No! Don’t let that happen your work is valuable. Art is valuable. At the very least give it away two people who love it. Just stand out on the corner with your art and give it to whoever admires it. I know I for one am someone who very much appreciates art but can’t afford it so I would be over the moon if I sell an artist that I liked who was willing to give away a painting that I fell in love with.

    2. I hope not the dump! Some of our work will of course and I have been known to burn some of mine as well. Hopefully most of your work can be given to family and friends and the remainder donated to non-profits for fundraising.

  4. This is a very interesting question facing many elder artists, and is something that all those who are approaching retirement would greatly benefit from the creation of a plan. My suggestions would be to employ someone to mount an exhibition of all the pieces, those that are left over can be divided between friends, and perhaps the rest could be donated to a local city gallery. Some public galleries also have a rental program, which means that the art is kept in circulation and enjoyed by many. If these or other steps are implemented now while the artist has the energy to oversee things, it will mean that the artist chooses where they go, rather than someone else. BTW, the word “bonfire” should never even be considered – yikes!!

    1. I assisted a friend in having a retrospective exhibition of her husband’s work at a gallery in Portland, ME.
      Luckily for her , she runs a gallery and continued to sell her husband’s work. Now 10 years later, she does not have enough to sell anymore after keeping some precious works for herself and their daughter.

    2. I am an ‘older’ artist. In my will I have stipulated what I want done with my older works and current unsold pieces. After friends and family have had their pick of any works they want, the rest can go to charitable organizations. Now about the bonfire… Annually, I take my mediocre pieces up to a lovely place in the mountains, build a bonfire, toss each piece in and roast hotdogs with a big smile on my face! It’s entertaining and a lot of fun (especially when other artists join with me)!

          1. Yes! It’s the pigment that is toxic—no matter if thevehicle is water, oil or plastic. And acrylics are plastic, so probs the worst to burn! Be safe!

  5. I’m not an artist but I’m helping a friend who is and is in his late 80’s…not sure where I find the responses to this article and question???

  6. Good question! As a sculptor who just turned 60, I am starting to consider this. If I were to die tomorrow, I have 2 galleries that show my work and I will ask my son to contact them with my work. However both of those galleries owners are older than I am so……… I’m thinking need to find an online venue, where my son could attempt to sell the sculpture. I would also ask him to let friends and family each choose -2 pieces to have.

  7. There is a very upscale resale shop in our neighborhood whose sales help support one of their charitable missions. I purchased a painting there from a relatively well known artist and treasure it. While the shop has to limit the resale of any one category, including art, they are often able to accept more items at later dates. I am so happy to have the painting in my home, the donor received part of the sales price, and the remaining profit went to charity.

    1. Carol, I love your idea!!! So simple and stress-free for you as an alternative to trying to come up with other ideas. I imagine that you have stipulated that whatever is left over will go to…..charity?

    2. I went to such a party….it was a blast. By the time the party was over, every piece of art was gone…..even the furniture! The family took what they wanted first, but as for the rest, what better way to solve the problem of all that art in under two hours!

    3. Good for you! I had a very close friend who passed away and her children held an “Open House” and told all her friends to chose what work that she had done to go home with them. I have a wonderful framed piece in my dining room that I look at each day with very fond remembrances of the time my friend shared,
      I think I will do the same, being 80 now.

  8. For my mother-in-law who just pasted away last November we displayed all her artwork during her memorial service and told guests that each are invited to take home two pieces. We had so many family and friends thank us via social media, phone calls, letters, and emails afterwards. It was the best gift we could do for Marie and her connections. Now everyone has a bit of her to cherish in their homes.

  9. My mother-in-law recently passed away with about 100 paintings in her possession. Before we divided them up / stored them / disposed of them, I took high quality photos of each piece. I made each family member a CD of all her pieces as a remembrance. This has become a treasured family tribute to her love of art, and made it possible for every family member to make prints, or create screen savers, etc., of all their favorites, not just the couple originals we each got.
    If you wish to sell them, another idea is to get a grandchild to create and manage an online storefront, such at Etsy, to sell the work. So many kids/grandkids are a whiz at online computer tasks! This creates a terrific bond between the generations, working together on a project like this! I used to ‘hire’ my high school and college-age kids to develop my website, my Etsy page, Fine Art America, etc. It was a win/win for all of us.

    1. What a great idea Debbie! I’m 86 and have been concerned about this problem. Even if I’m active on Ebay, and some social internet sites, I expect there will still be a number of residual works for disposal in the end. Thanks.

    1. Yes. The Art Connection in DC was actually started in Boston, where it still thrives. I have donated about 70 pieces to the DC Art Connection, and sometimes create a special piece or two for them. The Art Connection is very active in Baltimore as well, and has shows in Northern Virginia, where the nonprofits can come and select work for their lobbies and waiting rooms. I highly recommend donating art and money to the Art Connection.
      Your work ends up professionally installed in the nonprofit, along with a plaque citing the artist who donated.

  10. Hi, Jason!
    I love your ‘letters’
    My apartment is very small AND I live with another person (and a cat) so I can not accumulate a lot of works.
    I sometimes donate to Goodwill and use this as a tax deduction. People can afford those prices and I can designate a good price for my donations at tax time.
    I have tried donating to senior homes, etc but those organizations are so convoluted and political, I never got any replies back or returned phone calls 🙁

    1. You said: ” I can designate a good price for my donations at tax time.” Please check the tax laws before you do that. My accountant tells me that an artist can only take a tax deduction for the cost of materials of a donated work of art, not the wholesale or retail price or the value of your time in producing it.

      This seems inherently unfair, because two artists might pay the same for the canvas and paint, but the retail value of their donated painting might be $100, $1,000, or $10,000 – depending on their reputation and other factors.

      If someone purchases a work of art and then donates it, they can declare a deduction for the price they paid, but the artist can’t deduct the cost of her/his time or the established price range for a similar work. Only the cost of the materials counts for the IRS.

      Not sure who came up with this rule. Perhaps the intent was to keep artists from inflating the value of their donated works, but maybe artists should band together to get it changed.

      1. This is a tricky rule, my CPA told me that I can personally donate my custom jewelry if I own it first, and then can take a full deduction. But if my gallery donates it, yes, I can only deduct the costs. I suppose the same would be true for a painting that you have hanging on your wall at home. You could donate the full value of that. Not sure I want to test this though lol!

    2. It is fine to donate to Goodwill or any other charity, but please be aware that the IRS allows only the “cost of materials” as your donation. This would typically be mostly the frame cost for 2-D artwork, as the materials used— paper, paint, canvas, etc. are usually fairly negligible. You cannot apply your own price to your donation. The IRS put this tough rule into place I believe in the 60’s, in response to artists unloading large collections of their art and claiming retail prices for them. It’s not very fair, but we have to live with it.

  11. A very timely issue!
    I plan on taking pictures of specific works that I want friends and family to have.
    I’ll be giving the names of past clients to my executor and then my database.
    The executor can sell or give them away… I won’t be there! Hah!
    It would be tragic to destroy works that could be given to charities, senior homes, etc. Also, if paintings are on canvases, they can be reused by art schools!

  12. I have tried various methods to get rid of the “Old Stuff”, having sales, giving some away. BUT when you do this-you are flooding the market with either free or cheap art. People only have so many walls and most don’t like to rotate the art. Everytime there is a silent auction, donation or raffle-they all come to the artist to “give it away”. We are not like the big businesses that can write it off. The Government only lets us write off materials-our time is nothing including the years of classes, workshops and failed painting it took to get that good!
    I think every few years, we should get rid of the old. Generally we have grown in our talent. The “Old Stuff” isn’t as good or doesn’t represent our art now. Burn it or spray paint on it so if you throw it away no one can get it out of the trash. It feels really good to get rid of “Old Stuff” kind of a rebirth.

  13. I have donated about a dozen of my framed photographs to my church yard sale. Church members were very grateful that I did this and several bought some to give to friends and family. Those that were not purchased went to a local charity. I’m glad they are serving a good purpose and are not still sitting in my basement.

  14. I’m sending this article to my family with the suggestion that they help me market my paintings so they have less to deal with in the future!! Ha! I have at times suggested that during my funeral they set up all my unsold paintings all around the room on easels, walls and chairs and say to everyone, “Thank you for coming to Michelle’s funeral. Here’s a painting!” But if word of that gets out, no one will buy and everyone will just sit around waiting for my funeral.

  15. A friend inherited the work of a well-regarded New Orleans printmaker (primarily etchings). After cataloging his work, working with a New Orleans art dealer, she still was unable to find either a collector or institutional buyer. Her dealer passed away which made the situation even more bleak.

    As a personal project, she created a print-on-demand book (like Blurb), printed some copies and took them to New Orleans where she found a couple of book stores that wanted to carry them because the work shows New Orleans scenes from the 40’s and 50’s.

    She has not only sold the books but also made several print sales as a result.

    Not a big success story but one worth noting.

  16. Approach managers of corporate spaces and offer the works at reasonabl/ reduced prices. Supply an About the Artist statement for each, to be displayed with the work (a little like a plaque on a bench but better)…

  17. I have thought of this same question also . Was considering an open house at my studio /gallery and have a party celebrating my career and the paintings would all be sold at reduced price or silent auction ? It is crazy to see how many pieces I have done in my short 15 year career . I am truly blessed and love meeting collectors and hearing their stories . It’s a great life . Time to clean house , don’t need my kids to take on the responsibility

  18. a local artist donated her supplies, and art books to our watercolor society who auctions items off at few meetings which go to the scholarship(in her name) for one or two senior high school students a year who are pursuing art in college. I do not know what happened to her paintings. I am planning an art sale of all my work from my home in hopes of getting homes for older and current work. What is left will be painted over saving me costs. I really need to think about the future disbursement of my art as none of us are getting any younger!!

  19. So many good ideas, I will watch this thread. Jason, I know you will come up with a great follow-up article for us.
    One reason I am glad I paint on paper – takes up much less room!
    I do not believe in burning, I just keep them sorted between good, bad and ugly, LOL!
    I can wash off or cut up or otherwise re-purpose the ugly, but they also show me how far I have come. The bad are candidates for redo when I know how to do it better. And the good are ones for public viewing and sale.
    I am looking forward to making a plan for what happens to my leftover work someday.
    Thanks!

  20. As several of the responders have stated willing to the right person is a way to go. We have willed our collection of other artists to a young friend. One important thing I would say is that you talk to that person to ensure what they are getting into. We recently went through our collection and passed on 15 pieces early as she was moving to a new home. We also made it clear that it is up to her after we are gone what happens. We do trust her though to make sure our pieces will go to people or places that will love them. My husbands work will be given away at the wake as well as some pieces of mine to any of our friends or family who are interested.
    One thing to be aware of for your executor is to not make it so difficult for them to move anything on and they end up with a basement full of your work. Also we have set aside money for our executor to hire people to come in and deal with things like supplies and tools in our studios. In these days of dealing with the repercussions of the consumer age a lot of the suggestions given are not valid anymore. Everyone is full up…thrifts and vintage stores are now very savvy in what they will take. I love the idea of Art Connection as a respectful way to treat art. We need one in Canada. I think this is an excellent topic that deserves more consideration.

  21. Hello everyone… with about 300+ oils in my possesion this article hits home. I have given away around 100, donated some and sold a 100+(word of mouth) but I am still overwhelmed with what I have. I hate marketing!! I love sharing! I love giving! I do know that I need a showing! I am 62 and started painting @35

  22. I throw mine out……still learning and very few pieces satisfy me…the rest don’t.
    So I just trash them and keep on going till I can’t.
    Until I see any type of return on gathering possibilities (not just monetary) I see no problem with disposal.

    I call it …doing the Banksy!!!!

    1. I love this. I think I am a good artist, but there are many “good” artists out there. Why do we think we need to think of our work as something so valuable that others would even want them? I paint over mine until the canvas will take no more paint, and if the painting is mediocre, it becomes trash. Go Banksy!!!!

  23. I am in the same place as many older artist who have not a big market for their work. I have donated, given away and painted over many, many paintings. I still have a closet full and continue to create new ones. For me, not to paint is not to live. I am beginning to think that it is not a good idea to worry too much about what is going to happen after you die. I have paintings that my great Aunt did and I treasure them. I also have paintings that my mother did which I love. What will happen those when I die? Who knows? Maybe my children or grandchildren will want them and maybe not. Painting gives me so much joy! That is what I intend to concentrate on until I can’t lift a brush!

  24. I was given the task of sorting through my mother-on-law’s many paintings after she passed away. I carefully went through each piece of work with family. Thankfully, they were decisive about what they wanted and what they didn’t want. Several were identified as copies of other artist’s work, i.e. exercises of no real value. As the family resides on the opposite coast, I removed frames, packaged the art and shipped them. We placed the remaining works on a table, (near the refreshments!) at her memorial service. The service was held in her care facility, so fellow patients and care aides took several of her works. The institution agreed to hang on to others for display in patient rooms. Weeks later my sister-in-law, changed her mind and asserted that wanted all the remaining works. The institution couldn’t locate them, and she accused me of having discarded the work. There were weeks of anxious phone calls to the institution and eventually they located them in the basement. My sister-in-law flew back to the West coast to pick up works she had previously asserted she didn’t want. By the end of the ordeal I felt so wrung out. My hat is off to you folks who have made specific and thoughtful arrangements in your will.

  25. I have a few pieces I know my children would want but the rest, who knows? I am hoping that when the end is near I am still aware enough to give, sell or burn my art so my kids do not have to go through piles of stuff. I do some mixed media work and have lots of “stuff” waiting to be art. I often threaten that I will leave it all to them. LOL, there does not seem to be a really good solution.

  26. At our co-op gallery a retiring members excess canvases were made available to members to be collected or to be painted over and turned into new works of art. Everybody welcomes free quality art supplies and substrates. Excesses were snapped up by local art teachers.

  27. We do this every few years. We call it: Art Gleening! We invite everyone we know to our place (sometimes a home, sometimes an apartment, though I think for the next gleening, we might beg, borrow or steal a retail space).
    We hang every piece of art we don’t want on the walls and play art gallery. We record ‘sales’ and put red dots by every ‘sold’ piece, the whole 9 yards. The catch: It’s all free!
    Every show sells out. Some are paintings, some are sketches, some are old prints. Just whatever we need to clear out. It helps that we travel a lot and have lived several different places and are very good at meeting new people and making new friends, so having a 100 or more people show up to get a free piece of art is pretty easy.

  28. It’s a looming, major task for me. I have a basement full of paintings. My art representative has helped me to donate to hospital foundations who are accumulating some very good work to hang on the walls of the hospitals. Municipal art galleries regularly have fund-raisers and they too can come knocking on my door (are invited to do so).
    If you have representation (agent or gallery), it would be a good idea for them to approach the foundations and galleries rather than yourself. Speaking for myself, really, because I think my dealer does much better at presenting me than I do. I too am one of those artists not so expert at self-representation. Your dealer indicates to the foundation or agency that your works have already been evaluated as having artistic value.
    I want to know that the work is going to be cared for properly.
    We are considering creating a society here where I live to do something like the Art Connection mentioned above.
    Thank you, Terry Sitz, for mentioning it. I’m going to connect with them and find out some of their parameters. I’m glad their organization has been working – it shows it’s a good possibility for my community.
    Thank you, Jason, for keeping these conversations on-going. They are valuable to us all.

  29. I am in the process of donating my older art to a construction office. My son works for them and He said the walls were white and boring. Since I am grateful they hired him and he loves his job, I feel that if there any they want, that would be super. My style has changed, but I hope they will appreciate a bit of colour in the office to make their day happier.

    Otherwise, if they don’t want the paintings, I plan to cover them with gesso and make simple abstracts out of them. They can have those too.

  30. I have 6 living children and 24 grandchildren – I’m considering letting them pick out a framed painting from my cache this Christmas as we get together. I’m also going to let my drawing students choose one unframed painting/drawing at out last session this fall. This will help a bit. I’m 85 years old and still painting/drawing/teaching.

  31. In response to the bonfire idea, I would think that a lot of those canvasses and frames could be donated to schools and youth programs for their art departments. Usually, the canvases can be re-gessoed, and the kids would be able to paint on them. As far as the frames, children would be delighted to have their work framed before they take it home. There are probably other kinds of art that can be reworked by kids.

    1. Great idea and schools would love leftover paints, brushes, paper and any art – related items. Art supplies are not given a high priority in the school’s budget. I know. I used to teach and often would have to use my own money to supplement art projects. The local library has art/craft activities for children, usually holiday related, and is always in need of supplies. I save bottles, as do others. for the library and the librarian uses the money to buy art supplies for the library. The library is in a school, but does not receive any financial support from the school’s budget as it is a separate entity.

  32. If the art has sold in the past you can at least give selling a shot at low prices. If paintings did not sell even after a few shows give up and donate to the local art school. A lot of my art in Art School was painted on older paintings found in Thrift stores or on art given to the school. I was always scrounging for painting surfaces, still am. Don’t burn the stretcher bars for crying out loud.

    My inventory of paintings was stacking up so I did the following.
    • Sold 11 older large paintings in a local artist coop gallery at low cost between $300. and $800.
    • Sold 6 through saatchi, an online gallery, cheap prices.
    • Sold two paintings at a garage sale for $300. each.
    • Two coats of gesso cover up over old painting for a fresh new canvas.
    • Give newly gesso covered canvas on stretcher bars to local art schools. I lived on this in art school.
    • Give as gifts.
    • Remove and junk canvas and use or sell stretcher bars

  33. Well I would rather it wasn’t the Bonfire. I could donate the older onesto.ruin pubs, the ones where I was being grungy and inner-city.

    As for later, better works,no idea. Still working on the marketing gig

    1. Gil, I’m a sculptor and so far, my friend Mr. Hammer has taken care of any work I didn’t feel was good enough 🙂 I keep the bits and am always planning on using it for a commemorative wall mosaic, which somehow I never get around to making.

      I’m 53 so hopefully I won’t need to deal with my unsold body of work for some years yet.

      Valeria

  34. After twenty years of painting, last year I pulled out everything I’ve painted and photographed it (using my cell phone). I’ve shared anything I’m proud of on my website under my bio. My website is really about my current work, but it felt good to also share the old works on the internet under my name. If I didn’t have a website, I’d share old work on instagram. It doesn’t take more than a cell phone camera and signing up for Instagram which is free. This way, if my old work is stored away or given away, it won’t be completely lost.

  35. If you are a professional artist, keep in mind that any “gift” of your art is a deemed disposition at the full value of the work, which means that you owe tax on the full value even though you received no money at all. This can be very expensive for the artist. If you are a hobbyist, there is still a deemed disposition but there is an offsetting deduction of $1000 per work which in many cases would mean no tax. In both cases, a lot of tax reporting , so very complex tax returns for that year.
    For professionals, if you use the auction idea with a portion to go to a charity, then your tax is only on what you receive.Keep in mind that there are many artists wanting to go that route so some charities are swamped and jurying for quality may be a criteria. Good idea though.
    In my 70’s now, I have been editing down regularly for many years. Hard on your heart as your art works are your “babies” but a necessary part of being an artist. The saddest situation is when your family does not care for your work, so does not appreciate inheriting it. What then???

    1. Never heard this, thanks! So you work is worth spit if you donate it to a charity but it is full price if you gift it…something messed up with that!

  36. Having read all these comments I’m interested as a gallery owner to see how ‘attached’ each artist is or is not to their work. One of my favourite artists once told me “it’s only a piece of paper, Carlene” She is the only artist in my stable who kindly gave me a painting for my own home. I work very hard for each artist but her generosity shines in her attitude. Why hoard? You each have been given a talent, a gift in your creativity. A true gift is given away. I’m sure many charities would welcome art to sell or auction and as for the bonfires I think that’s great! I’m a writer as well as a gallery owner and I often shred volumes of paper in the pursuit of my “art” I see my gift as something that gives me pleasure and it’s a joy to share not something to be hoarded. If it’s a story that hasn’t work then I enjoyed the learning process and the doing and a bonfire or shredder is totally ok. Give your excess art to those who can’t afford beautiful art and believe me your spirit will shine far more than that gallery cheque.

    1. Phyllis I am only advocating a bonfire on work that a artist feels wasn’t their best – you know that piece that never really worked out or the early practise pieces 🙂

      1. Almost any paper or canvas can be re-used or salvaged. Canvases can be painted over, or collaged and painted. Water color paper can be washed off, painted over with gesso, ripped up and used in a collage, or just flip over and paint on the other side. No reason to ever throw in a bonfire.

        1. I have donated work, given it to young friends who need art on their walls and continue to create. I teach at some local art centers and my studio. I have accumulated so much art over 30 years. If I had the time, health and energy I would love to gesso old work, however, as I am physically challenged I can’t gesso things over or tear them up. What precious hours I have to be in my studio leaves me with throwing things out or storing unfinished and awful art I have done. I don’t think my work is for everyone. I am considering getting a dumpster or hiring junk removal people. Not going to start a bonfire but maybe hire junk removal company. My husband doesn’t like that idea, not sure I do either. Ironically the last awards and sales have been of pieces I thought were surely dumpster art. This is such a complicated problem.m

  37. Sometimes I have donated art to the local PBS fund drive auction. When it is auctioned off they notify me in writing regarding the price that it sold for. I then have been able to take that price as the deduction on my taxes. Pieces (oil painting) I don’t like much I have been able to cover with paint or scrape and use over again. Occasionally I have given a few pieces to Good Will. A friend of mine gives away smaller pieces (studies) to anybody who buys one of his finished paintings, thus keeping accumulation to a minimum since most of his larger works sell.

  38. I have determined that upon my demise my remaining artwork will be donated to a hospice called ‘Karuna” (Tibetan Buddhist for ‘Caring’) here in Australia. This organisation provides free palliative & nursing care for people with terminal illness who have chosen to spend their last days in their own homes. They rely solely on the donation from the public for financial and material support. Their free services include the provision of hospital beds installed in the home, all necessary doctor supervision and medications plus volunteer respite for relatives who watch over the patient.

  39. I am in my ’70’s and “winding down” my fine art photography business. First I held an “inventory liquidation” sale, inviting all my clients, friends and relatives to a patio party for that purpose during a summer weekend when many neighbors were having yard sales . At reduced prices I sold quite a bit. There is still a lot left. I have some pieces that I know my close family members want so I will gift them for Christmas and birthdays. Currently I am donating a framed photo per month for six months to my church for a fun fund-raising silent auction. To encourage bidding, the second highest bidder will receive a matted print. Whatever is left when I die, will be given away at a post-funeral party to my close friends and relatives. A university library has expressed interest in my travel photos but only if they are identified as to time and place. Fat chance! I told my daughter to have a bonfire with whatever is left over and she was horrified. So I’m happy to leave it up to her. :))

    1. Hello PJ….. Out of all these comments, you are the only one I saw who is a Fine Art Photographer.
      How refreshing ! I too, am in my early 70’s, and have a bunch of framed pieces taking up space. I’ve always had kind of a “standard size” so to speak… roughly 16×20, matted and framed, all uniformly. Plus I have a stack of (what used to be the coveted) Kodak paper boxes with unframed loose extra prints.
      I’ve had solo exhibits over the years, which have done well. Also many group shows. Now I belong to a very established, highly revered Art group, and exhibit with them, which is great, but hardly any shooters. I’m in with real talent, but painters and sculptors…so photography gets over powered you might say. To make it worse, I don’t do the usual “birds, bees & sunsets” thing… so you know… people like “pretty pictures” that match the sofa mostly. I’m a street shooter…. street portraits, homeless, gritty stuff like that. Some architecture. I hand color B&W, not in the computer, at the art table. (not every image, but ones that lend themselves to it)
      Things have changed so much now. I guess I foolishly had the notion I was all alone in this boat. Glad to see I’m not… but I still don’t quite get it.
      Anyhow, I think your idea makes the most sense… and I thank you for sharing. Believe me, I’ve considered the bonfire.
      🙂

  40. I can’t believe I am still showing at 85. The last museum framed 8 of my etchings in April, May and June, and asked me to donate them to them. I am showing at a local community gallery now and I am thinking of asking an organization to sell my works and keep the money or else find a non profit that has white walls to take them after my family takes what it wants. I hope I can do it before I die. This is along the lines I have been thinking.

  41. This post has given me hope! Thank You Jason for letting it see the light of day.
    I sometimes despair at the thought of where will all of this work go? Am I just working to have it all mean nothing in the end? Of course these are not questions for me to answer, but it is nice to know there are others who similarly struggle and some very good comments to think about.

  42. Thank you Jason and everyone for offering some more great ideas with dilemma of what to do with an Inventory of art works, which have at its basic parameter how or why a person “creates that which did not exist before the creator invented it.” For myself, it has been a confirmation of my existence, my ideas, concepts and offering a ‘legacy and record of the time in which the works were created and a response to my experiences through various art disciplines including painting, multi media; installations; photography; constructions; poetry.’ Numerous works since 1968 in Public, Trust, Corporate and Private Collections Australia, New Zealand, UK.

    In process currently to offer “Deed of Gift” to various Institutions; Educational; Private Collections; Schools; Regional Art Galleries where my work is relevant to their Collection Policy; Hospitals; Care Homes; Charities; Biograph and Provenance Certificate are provided. There are standard Deed of Gift/Bequest Documents available from Arts Law and Arts Organisations in most States.

    I regret several ‘bonfires’ past but fortunately have photographs which can now be digitised onto canvas if required so not entirely lost forever.

    Certainly a life’s work should not end up with the ‘dumpster at death’ syndrome because family do not want or care about art. At 75 I just have cognitive and quality time available, I hope to ensure all is recorded, photographed with support media/articles and critiques Archived appropriately with each series of works. Thank you everyone and Jason for suggestions and comments. Diana Windsor NSW

    NB: Most interesting – approx. 10-12 male artists responded to Jason’s information, in contrast to approx. 56 female artists!! Not sure what one could surmise or deduce from this count which seems counter intuitive to the ‘glass ceiling’ in primary and secondary art worlds where the ‘male artist’ for the most part remains numero uno.

  43. I envision a digital book of the paintings made with quotes or memories of the artist on the page. This can easily be shared with family members. It would take some time and commitment from a loved one to help create it.

    Schools could use some of the paintings as prompts for writing stories or poetry. Churches and spiritual centers could use some as content for living curriculum and exploration of one’s relationship to what the painting expresses.

    Depending on the type of images, submit them for digital reprinting into wall paper or onto fabrics.

    If the artist is still living and willing, perhaps they could allow another artist to merge their painting into a new one being created, maybe with some collaboration.

    Some of these ideas may not exactly take care of the physical painting but would be a way for the work to find its way into a new way of expression.

  44. Our Philadelphia Based Art Non-Profit, Art Sphere Inc is having a fundraising celebration of our 20th Anniversary on Thursday December 13 from 6-8pm at “the Workshop” on the first floor of the Bok building in Philadelphia with live music, food and drink open to the public. We will be exhibiting and asking donations for artwork donated to us to raise money for art materials which we put together in boxes as kits and distribute with lesson plans to our low income inner-city students. Many of our students don’t have these basics including: scissors, marker sets color pencil sets, crayon sets , water colors sets, glue sticks and glue bottles. Some of our students are immigrants and have been in the country less than two years and as refugees struggle with great loss. Young students have described witnessing death, rape and are small for their ages from malnutrition and have health issues. Meanwhile our other students often have family members that are missing, drug addicted, incarcerated and deal with their own post traumatic stress of living in fear of gangs and random acts of violence. Art gives youth control, peace and way to communicate hardships in a way that is empowering and shares beauty. We welcome art you would like donate to help our students enrolled in our free ten week art programs.

  45. In the past I’ve removed my signature from lesser works, and donated them to a thrift store (I work in acrylics). Time to do that again. A studio purge every now and then is helpful, especially now that I’m getting on in years.

    Other than that, stipulate in my will what’s to be done with my art in terms of giving to family/friends, then have an estate sale with the rest.

  46. One of my older cousins had a collection of owls and Greek pottery. So at her memorial luncheon, her sons brought the collection and displayed it, asking each person attending to take a piece as a memento of their mother. After reading a lot of the responses here, I had the thought that this would be a wonderful thing to do with the remaining art of an artist who has passed on, if selling it as part of their estate is not what the heirs want to do. (This post has got me thinking that it’s a good idea for artists to confront writing down in their wills individual bequests and instructions about what should be done with their work once they’re gone. Note to self!)

  47. Jason, you may not have been able to give an answer to this problem, but making the issue available to all of the artists who follow you has given me answers galore. Thanks again for another solution associated with my art!

  48. i have selled it at cheap prices up to $ 10
    some time I gave it as a gifts / but i never sell the works which I love
    I have very old works some it from my beginnings and some since I was 10 years old. It is true that it is weak and not good, but it is characteristic of me and I am not able to sell it.

  49. Hi Jason and Respondees – Again a million thanks for ideas, and possible alternatives to explore with regard to help save our art works from total oblivion – tremendous ideas for sure and I will most certainly follow through over time with as many of these possibilities as can. Keep Creating tho’ for sure. Halloween Cheers from Many Billabongs Down Under….Diana

  50. How about taking the piece to a junior high or high school. Speak to kids about art, and the joy of making and acquiring original art, then give every child in the class a piece. You get to reduce your excess and you might be encouraging future collectors.

  51. This question is timely and spot on. Ours is a kind of terminal family, meaning there is just my sister, myself, my wife, our only child, her husband. My extended family goes to cousins who are more numerous but not many. They have never shown much if any interest in what I’ve done or am doing. What I do have is pretty much everything I’ve ever made and since retiring from arts education the quantity and quality had grown immeasurably, but who knows that.
    My idea that has been percolating (maybe I should say aging) is to coordinate with my favorite and reasonably local estate winery, buy their day and host (in absentia since it will be a kind of memorial celebration) a party be it commencement or going away. All the work will be there and it has to go, all my CDs will be there and they have to go. (The winery was at first very reluctant but I keep bringing it up so I think there will be some sort of plan). There is one large project that has to find a special home and while I have been sending out feelers, there are no takers.
    But anyway, having had to clean out both sets of parents homes, we have determined that my daughter should not be harnessed with this even though she is the consummate manager.
    Just to note- there have been some horrendous artist estate sagas out there so if you’re even thinking about it, you probably are at an advantage.
    I really like the calling hours, wake idea and also the bonfire (except for the toxicity).

  52. Just thought of another idea in place of burning. Since destruction is already on the table, if paintings and drawings, what a great collage source for a local arts center that does classes. You could hold a party and rip and tear while laughing, eating, drinking, etc. At the end of the session there are piles of arty-scraps ready to go to a new and glorious home.

  53. I just attended a presentation by attorneys on this very topic. It inspired me to take inventory again, and make a list and keep it up to date, of who should get what when I die. And to finally have a real will made. I also need to think of someone, or some entity, to give my copyrights to, because my relatives have no idea what their rights would be or how to continue to make money with my intellectual property. It’d be a chore for them, not a “gift.” One of the suggestions was to give away unsold art at the artist’s funeral. Also discussed was equipment. If you have expensive presses, kilns, etc, figure out where it could be donated or if it makes more sense to try to sell it and just put the money in the estate’s kitty. When a relative of mine died, his art had already mostly been sold or given away, but he had some nude drawings. Another relative tore them up and discarded them because in her mind they were “dirty pictures.” If I reach a point where I’m so old I am not productive anymore I might start giving away art before I have to think about who will distribute it after I’m gone.

    And on a lighter note, there is a whole genre of altered thrift store art, so if your art gets dumped on a thrift store by your heirs, it is likely some other artist might snap it up and give it a new twist! Or, maybe they will just treasure their $5 bargain.

  54. In the process of down-sizing, I asked the two contractors working on our new residence if I could throw some of my old paintings into their pick-up truck for disposal. They said “sure” and I pitched them in. A year later when they were doing some touch up work, they told me they had these paintings hanging in their homes. I was more than surprised and I immediately tried to recall what I had thrown out. They said their wives and family were really enjoying the pieces. So much for managing the ending of your artwork!

  55. My solution to the problem of what to do with my pile of unsold work was to send it all to a charity shop. They sent a large truck and took them away. I heard later that the art which I could bear to part with was sold at bargain prices and it went like hot cakes! It was so satisfying to hear that my art was being appreciated at last.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *