Whose Art Is It Anyway?

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

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About ShaylaMaddox

I paint, and travel, and absorb the universe. And then I paint about those things. My work is a blend of science, Zen style, and Sacred Geometry. I am inspired by stars, moons, sunsets, tropical beaches, humidity, coloring books, crayons, glo-worms and lite-brites, the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade, Jules Verne, The Science Channel, ancient technology and civilizations, the study of the universe, spirituality, stained glass windows, sea glass, telescopes, down-tempo music, Zen wisdom, rainbows, fireflies, water and light.

4 thoughts on “Whose Art Is It Anyway?

  1. I think once you share your art with the world, it stops belonging to you. Isn’t that the point, to give of yourself away in your art? Whatever that “self” was at that point, it’s not a matter up for discussion. That’s who you were, period. Artists are never happy with the final result, it’s just a matter of deciding when to walk away and call it “done”, even if it never feels done. And I also hate what George Lucas is doing, not even right at all! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 

  2. Is the art or the artist more important. Is it the canvas or the talent which should be priority? Personally im all about the talent and if the artist feels the need to amend a work then they should be allowed to, guilt free. Art to me is a living thing. It matures and changes. Even ancient work ages, decays, becomes different to what it once was. Colours fade. Meanings change. Damage occurs. Fashion alters. But is it still beautiful and worthy? If the artist steps in and edits prematurely or changes things themselves is that bad or just part of the works natural life? You just need to look at x-rays of the masters canvasses to see they too repurposed their work long after it was complete. If something isn’t representing you well enough get the paintbrush out again I say!

  3. “And don’t get me started on George Lucas….”  Hahaha! Best line ever!
    And don’t get me started on Andrew Lloyd-Webber: Phantom of the Opera The Sequel – what the heck was he thinking?! Meg is a murderess, Raoul is alcoholic, and Christine has a love-child with the Phantom.  Just step away from the piano, Sir, and leave Leroux’s characters to rest in peace. 😛

    I totally sympathize with your feelings of incompleteness… sometimes my work doesn’t turn out the way I envisioned originally and I’m tempted to go back and change it.  Especially if it isn’t receiving tons of attention… I feel like, “Who will notice? Maybe I’ll sneak it back to the drawing table and tweak this…”

    However, someone once surprised me by purchasing one of my “failed” attempts, and raved that it was Purrfect!! …. So really, if I’d repainted it… would she still have wanted to buy it? Or would it still be here in my studio, causing me to doubt even more…

    Now my paintings don’t usually take months, unless I’m procrastinating *cough*, so I can only speak for myself…. but I’ve decided to leave them alone once I’ve presented them to my audience.   If I feel the impulse to re-do something, I’ll create a derivative work from it.   Of course the To-Do list of Re-Dos grows ever longer…. Haha!

  4. Agreed, and I too have had people buy art that I was secretly planning to alter, but hadn’t yet gotten around to. Of course the irony is, once it’s purchased, I am content that it was always complete! 😉 

    Artistic mood swings: I always encourage people to buy my art quickly and get it out of my studio and away from me for this very reason! hahaha!

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