Over time my studio begins to collect a fair number of precious darlings. Pieces that were ultimately flawed but with parts I found appealing. Maybe I liked the crosshatching in one piece, or the way I handled the composition in another.
We've all been there. You work on a piece and just love some aspect of it. But then there are other aspects that make the whole thing fall apart. It's disappointing and frustrating. I usually start over again when disaster strikes. But I often hang on to the flawed piece. I guess I like revisiting it to admire the part that worked. Unfortunately these inspired but flawed pieces stack up over time. Pretty soon you've got studio clutter. And clutter nibbles away at my creativity.
Some folks attribute the saying "murder your darlings" to William Faulkner. Others say it originated with British writer Arthur Quiller-Couch, who used the line in his Cambridge lectures "On Style." The gist of the line is that you should get rid of your self indulgent or most precious passages for the greater good of your literary work. I think the same philosophy can apply to artwork. Sometimes we hang on to pieces because we are impressed with some "brilliant" aspect of it. But often less is more. Sometimes we need to murder our darlings to move forward.
A few years ago I was in a workshop with Scott L. Christensen. He dragged out an overworked, over detailed landscape study and passed it around. Then he spilled the beans. The painting was his, from back when he first started. It was a great way to encourage the rest of us. With study and persistence, our art will improve. It made sense why he kept that old painting around. It was an excellent tool for instruction. But I'm sure there are plenty of other pieces that Scott eventually destroyed. Even master painters murder their darlings.
I used to keep a lot of my old painting efforts. Some I would drag out and rework or paint over. Occasionally a piece was salvaged, reworked and something special happened. More often I just made a mess. The point is, don't be afraid to kill your darlings. If a piece represents a specific breakthrough then fine, hang on to it. But when we kill our darlings we free our minds and make room for new growth.
I recently pulled a large stack of my failed cartoons out of the cabinet in my studio. I laid them on the floor and went through them. Each had parts I liked, amidst the flaws. Once I'd viewed them all, I set about cutting them up and tossing them in my recycling can. There's something uplifting about purging old work. It seems to free my mind and spirit. There was more room in my cabinet now to store future efforts. A few days later I wheeled the recycling can to the curb for pickup. I said a final goodbye to these old friends and turned back to my studio. There was new art to create. New adventures to have.