Death Of A Painting: The Five Stages Of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (DABDA)--is quite apropos in describing my usual process of coming to terms with the death of a painting--a painting that isn't going to make the grade and finally, ultimately, must be destroyed. Here are the stages as they relate to how I cope.
- Denial: The painting is quite far along by now and I know in my heart there are irreparable problems, but I say to myself, "I can't let this beat me; I can fix it." So, because of my stubbornness, and because some things about the piece I actually like, I continue on, applying more and more paint, scraping off areas or painting over them with white to start anew. But things only get worse.
- Anger: I'm exceedingly frustrated by now, having worked, and worked, and worked on this single piece, unable to focus on anything else until I get this one right. Frustration turns to anger, anger at myself for not thinking it through from the beginning, and at the painting for ever having tried to come into existence.
- Bargaining: This is the, "I promise to live my life differently if only you will make it better," routine. I don't do much of this one because I really don't think God cares one way or the other about this particular painting but more about my response to the situation. So I try to "pull myself up by my bootstraps," and change my attitude because, at this point, I have become quite negative. Still, I am unable to gain any positive outlook on the piece.
Your failures can be joyful, because they are the stepping stones to your success. Robert Genn
- Depression: This one I'm very good at. By now it's utterly undeniable that this painting is done for. I get very down and pretty much stop working (the worst thing you can do). I mull the whole process over and over again in my mind, saying to myself, "where did I go wrong," and I add, "I'm no good at this crap!" It can be days or even weeks before I drag myself back into the studio.
- Acceptance: Probably still depressed a bit, having somehow managed to remind myself of brighter days before, I return to my easel to face the truth head on. I accept now that this painting is not to my standards, that it doesn't define me as a person nor as an artist, that its existence and ultimate destruction were necessary in my development, and, there are no failures as long as I am working, there are only necessary steps.
I proceed to cut the canvas down the middle and then from the stretcher bars and throw the pieces in the garbage. I've even burned them in the backyard before, and I think this a more fitting ceremony for a martyr, but the fumes were a bit toxic so I stopped doing that. Either way, physically destroying the attempted work is regenerative, rejuvenating. Now, finally, I can focus on the next one. Now I can move on.
The Painter's Keys by Robert Genn