I usually don’t pay attention to any crazy-artist streaks within me, but I suppose from an outward standpoint it’s probably obvious. I have a tendency to swing between extreme emotions about everything I do, spending half the time loving a painting, and the other half hating it. But that’s normal, right? Creating is hard.
I also like to spontaneously change my work after it’s finished. One might say “destroy.” “Ruin.” “Cover up.” I say “improve.”
I have been known to quietly remove an unsold work from public view in order to change it in such a drastic way that it is essentially a brand new painting. First I’ll paint it white. Then I’ll paint it over.
This infuriates my husband. In his mind, the work now belongs to my fans and my audience, even if no one owns the physical painting. In my mind, the painting isn’t finished until it has a home, and as long as it’s hanging on my own wall, we’re calling it a “work in progress.”
It’s kind of like I realize, after the fact, after signing it and posting it online, that I have further ideas about how it should look, as though the painting was only half finished to begin with.
But this is really just a feeling. Sometimes I get antsy. If someone emails me and says “OMG I HAVE TO HAVE THAT PAINTING!” (which happens) then I no longer feel any desire to change anything about it. It feels done. I’m not in the business of destroying art that the public in general loves, nor am I trying to make any sort of statement about what the art means to me. It’s all just feelings. I certainly don’t want to remove a painting from existence if someone truly loves it.
When I look at the situation existing outside myself, I think I’d probably agree with my husband. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by covering up an art piece that someone admires but doesn’t have the means to own. I truly do understand this.
At the same time, I can’t look at the situation outside myself. I’m in it. The situation exists because I created it. The art is as I see it. Being spontaneously inspired and taking creative action is my prerogative. That’s where my skills lie; if I weren’t doing that, I’d still be delivering Chinese food or working at Disneyland.
This situation brings up an interesting question, one that I’m not sure I or anyone really has the answer to.
Where do you draw the line? At what point am I required to leave it alone?
I can’t imagine it being fair to anyone for an author to go in and change the story of a book he wrote after it’s been published and read. I even get irritated when I hear a different version of a song that I wasn’t expecting. And don’t get me started on George Lucas.
I’ve heard that it’s not the artist’s job to judge their own work, but to instead make the work and let others decide what it is. I can agree with that. I think the problem comes when I simply don’t feel I’m done making the work. Even if I’ve signed it. Even if I’ve said it was finished.
It’s not as simple as making another one. Each of my paintings take months and months to complete. I’ve spent a lot of my soul doing so. Starting over feels impossible. Working with what I’ve done thus far seems doable. In fact, it’s energizing. Therapeutic, even.
However, I don’t actually make the art for me alone. I am communicating something. My art is a reflection of how I see the universe, plain and simple. I want everyone else to receive that. But maybe sometimes I change my mind about what I’m actually saying. If I have the opportunity to better refine my voice, it’s hard not to take it.
Perhaps with maturity I will learn to appreciate the creative space I was originally in when I called the painting done the first time. That in itself must be documented in my ongoing career, if for no other reason than to show how I’ve grown as an artist.
What do you think? Is art ultimately a gift to the public or does it belong to the artist to change at will?
At what point does an artist’s work become emotionally adopted by humanity?
—Written by Shayla Maddox for Art & Musings