Group Discussion: When Is It Ready For The Trash? Part II

I recently began a discussion on on the question, "how and when does the artist know, while in the process of doing a piece of art, that the work is not going anywhere and must be destroyed or redone?" Here are some interesting insights on my query from other artists (italics) with my responses. Part 2 of 2.

The complete discussion is at LinkedIn / True Artist: Living The Art.


"I know you've heard the question, 'when is a painting finished?' My question--when is a painting finished-- ready for the trash?"


"it's about perfection in my depiction...(also) I would imagine painting over a piece that is a visual voice would be far harder to do, than say, painting over a technique." L.V.

"when I say " it's wanting to be perfect in what I want to say"...I don't mean in a deliberate, Conceptual Artist's way (talking about myself here), but in either a) a more subconscious outpouring of feeling, or b) in how I am attempting to interpret a scene, ie, what it is I am trying "to say" about a scene (as apposed to a political, social or otherwise statement). I am, as I believe most professional artists are, always trying to be better at the craft of painting and, in the process of any work, there is always the mental "dance" between what I am trying to say (interpretation or concept--conscious or not) and how I am attempting to say it (technique). I do, however, put feeling before technique in my work--at least I want to...(this) is in reference to "perfectionism". I know Van Gogh said that he wanted to be remembered as an artist that felt deeply (not as an artist that drew well). That's where I'm coming from..."

"I think the idea of painting something new over a failed painting is gross. I would never want all of the various lumps and bumps, ridges, psychic energy and what have you to be at the base of a virgin canvas...If I paint something that utterly bombs...I will CELEBRATE tossing it out. Sure there is a tinge of self-doubt and even regret but you probably should not save EVERYTHING, they will crowd you out of your house and never let you sleep at night. But not the bars of course, that's just sheer wastefulness. For me, a big part of the pleasure of starting a new painting is staring down a blank, flat, unemcumbered canvas." M.G.

"what you say is so very true, I've had many a sleepless night from pieces I just cannot rectify. Once I cut them up I no longer dwell on them. Part of this may also be my personality--we are all different. Your statement on regret and self doubt are important points because many times, I think, we artist's think we shouldn't be doing this or that because it hurts. Regret and self doubt are tools of the trade--you must work through these and continue on...I too love the beginning, of a new canvas, a new start. Maybe a piece that's beyond our repair is that way because we've gone beyond the statement, which is I believe, the life of the painting."

"I often think that to throw away a piece of art is a sin , and as I love working with texture and recycled materials , I find it a blessing to be ruthless, when one can create a new piece of work from old and be as happy with the out come...I love layers and what better way to place thick paint and create fluid marks on a surface then that of which already has history" L.C.

"I've worked over paintings I've turned upside down and very much like the effect, the underlayment showing through between paint strokes and such. Maybe I'm not as practiced in thick layering and therefore it doesn't come as easily to me yet; this definitely goes back to the reason a piece isn't working anyway I think, that being because we haven't the sight or skill to make it work at that time. So it could be a definciency on my part. And on this point I am definitely not on the side of not working through problems--I believe very much in the struggle and of working through issues--that's how we grow. But at some point there must be a decision made, and to me this is not giving up but is being quite brave in making the decision to move on--like a relationship that is stagnant--to move on is to move ahead. That's another interesting thought--the relationship we ultimately have with our work, but I may be wavering far off point."

"Overworking and over emphasizing can lose a painting for the artist and lose the feel or message...I know for sure that there is a point when I am confused as to what it was that I set out to accomplish and finite detail overrides the initial dynamic I was looking to achieve. I think we are all the harshest critics of our work and I am no exception...but I am also a very harsh critic of my own approach and technique and consider myself to be an impressionist trapped inside a copyist's body...the battle with myself has begun before I even start! create on top of an existing piece carries with it tangible 'baggage', whereas a virgin canvas will have only ghostly lessons." L.V.

Cut Painting"on...technique/feeling, M. Graham said (did I say I collect quotes) "Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion." I think this falls in line with my desire to want to "say something" in my work.--I can't, personally, be that enthused over technique...I love your words of "an impressionist trapped inside a copyist..."--I understand this conflict I think. I wonder if it's the same conflict I experience trying to define who I am as an artist--where do I fit in--I try many different "styles" and approachs until one day it all amalgams into a unified style of my own. I know artist's change styles also, mid career or so, but this is different because there is a specific and known desire to go to a certain place. I've heard artists say they want to "loosen up", be more spontanious in there brushstroke and approach, maybe this is different also, because there is a more known quantity--whereas what I'm saying is more of a searching I is a natural process all through an artist's life, no matter how practiced, if they are trying to grow--to move in and out of approaches and techniques and therefore, styles. Again, as in life, this is a course of known and subconscious thinking...this goes back to point, our aims are directly related to our results."

"How many times can you paint over it before you must call it a day? I have done this several times, and just ended up putting it away and never looked at it again. It was too painful." D.I.

"I put them away and come back later and on and on until one day I say, enough is enough, and that's when I take the brave action of cutting it from the canvas. I say brave because I am taking responsibility for my work--my actions--and I am saying to myself, "you have not done this one to your standards"; I think this is a hard thing to accept, that maybe I didn't achieve this time--to face it is brave I think."

"It's finished when I make a better one using the same subject!" G.S.

"(G.S.)  I almost gasped when you painted the gesso over the first piece--I also liked the way you looked at the camera afterwards (See That is the kind of boldness a brave and serious artist has I think. I could tell (I may, of course, be wrong) by the way you held the paintings--almost flipantly--that they were less important to you than the process was of creating them. That attitude can make redoing easier also. Your pieces went through several revisions it appears--each of them--what do you think the second one finally imbued that the first did not?

"Remember this important axiom, COMPLETION WITHOUT CORRECTION." R.C.

"I wish I could say I've completed a painting without correction, but, alas, I cannot. Painting is a series of corrections, corrections not being a bad thing, just steps in the process."

"...yes, I usually have to make some corrections also. But a series of corrections? Never. To complete from start to finish is the goal. I learned this from Salvadore Dali. He knows." R.C.

"Corrections, adjustments, deviations are, I think, inevitable; there are certainly pieces that require more or less than others--I refer to it as a "series"...Interesting, this goal or idea of start to finish with no corrections. I don't think I've ever thought about painting in that way--I think it would put too much pressure on me. Or, maybe, that is always the underlying / subconscious goal; I guess it would be nice if it were the case--to be able to do it, that is. Athletes, musicians, perform to do as perfectly as possible, so I guess visual artist's are attempting the same. Being able to go back and correct is an advantage (or is it)...I also think it is the normal way of things, of us humans, to proceed with trial and error; accepting that (and being able to go back and fix) relieves me of the pressure of performing perfectly--I am freed to paint furiously, as I put it (not to be overly dramatic)...I do also believe, that the more sure you are from the start of your image, of what you want to say, that that is the surest route to finish."

"This is what Dean Cornwell did. He would paint his picture first with all the problems, then paint it all over again from start to fin." R.C.

"I guess Cornwell was doing a preliminary like maybe doing a value drawing in charcoal of a portrait, before the paint version. You know I'm not sure I could do this, the way I paint (talking about painting in general not portraits), I think I would lose the spontinaity and freshness that seems to come with the first version. I am usually worn out from a piece after the first go--it's a very emotional thing to me. Somehow a strict portrait is different, because there is so much that has to be "right" and if I work the kinks out first then that frees me up on the final. I don't put that kind of pressure on myself with paintings in general--having to make them "perfect". Maybe that's why I enjoy painting people for myself more than as commissions. Actually, that's something I struggle with a bit in portraiture--I want it to be spontanious and my "style" but at the same time, it seems, most people paying for a portrait want something more photo-real like."

see Part 1

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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