Throughout the past couple of months I have been going through a large old storage unit with all of my family’s belongings. It has been sitting there for 8 years. I have no other immediate family and there are no other children or grandchildren so I am the end of the line. I had avoided that storage unit all this time for a multitude of reasons but finally it had become time to deal with it. I was ready.
As you might imagine, it has been quiet a journey going through it all… this enormous review of my life and the lives of those who came before me and that I loved. Emotionally it has included a whole array of experiences such as laughing, crying, discovering and remembering. It has also been quite transformative and, as I have reached the end of the process, quiet freeing.
One of the biggest things, beyond the emotions, to deal with has been What-Do-I-Keep-and-What-Do-I-Let-Go-Of? Since there is no one else to leave it to and therefore I have no responsibility to make sure that I preserve it “for someone else” it has been completely my choice. I have been, for years, a very minimalist person in how I live. I don’t collect tons of possessions; I am very organized and uncluttered. Every year I go even through what I do have and give things away to maintain that. However, shedding the not-so-current past was a whole different process.
So there I was in this 10’ x 15’ storage unit filled to the brim with stuff. I first sorted and then started distributing them … shredding papers and taking them to recycling centers, taking books to a used book store, taking vinyl albums to a used record store, setting up some unique china and silver to sell, everything else that I could recycle to various recycling facilities and all other usable things to charities, etc. But then the moment came when I had to deal with the BIGGEST of all my decision making … because in the middle of all of that stuff, I found ALL of MY OLD ART!
Endless journals of art ideas, writing and poetry, sketchbooks, paintings, sculpture, mixed media pieces, photos and negatives and film. Every thing possible that either my parents had saved or that I saved. It ranged from my childhood through my early 40s, when I relocated and sold my parents house. It seemed like, of all my previous possessions, I had done the best job of holding onto my Art.
So that was when the storage-emptying project suddenly became much more intense. I had taken my whole family’s past, including important legal documents and photos, and had condensed it into a few large plastic bins. It was pretty simple and logical up until then. I had moved through the emotional ties and let it go. But MY ART was a whole different world.
In the first couple of boxes I opened, I was horrified to find all of my old films ruined … there had been a water leak and in the process they had literally been destroyed. Old Bolex 35 mm film reels, hand spliced original films and final processed films … all gone to decay and mold. I quickly thought, after the original grief, that the leak had spared me from making any decisions about my films … it was what it was. The rest became an adventure … in each drawing, painting, print and sculpture there was every memory of why and how it got created. I found myself reading through journals and flipping through sketchbooks for hours.
O, and let’s not forget the art of all my artist friends and lovers and the all of collaborative work I did together with other artists. That was another trip down memory lane that I indulged in as I remembered how each piece got created and made and perhaps given to me. Holding each piece I experienced not just the memories but also the energy of the piece … still vibrating as if it was created yesterday.
In my current life I am not attached to my Art anymore … once it is created I immediately release it into someone else’s hands. But there, in that storage room, I was flooded with ATTACHMENT to each piece from my past. In my current life I am also so content with myself and where I am at this stage of my life, there is no need to backtrack. But faced with all of that old Art there was this pull to return to the past as if it was magical in some way. I was so happy sitting there surrounded by all of those old creations.
There was an exhilaration of sorts that finally occurred as I realized that each piece had clearly led me to where I was now. There were even pieces of the puzzle of my life that I had forgotten and the “ah-ha” that went with it as I rediscovered it. I was reminded of all of my bold and brash and wild moments throughout the years. Completion! I allowed myself to enjoy and delve in to the whole process. I am now complete with it all.
The final piece to handle is to go back and finish the physical work with the Art. I have decided I will take photos of each piece of art for myself. Then, for some of them, I will put little sticky notes telling me where they will go and deliver them. I will give some them to particular people; give some of them to charity for auctions or for them to do what they want with them and I will give anything reusable to some of my artist friends that I know will appreciate being able to reuse the materials, canvases, etc.
Some of them (so many works-in-progress) along with the journals and sketchbooks I will wave goodbye to and simply release from the planet (I have planned the ceremony – I love release ceremonies). They stayed around long enough to share with me what they needed to share so that I can incorporate them into who I am now. They will not serve me or anyone else any further purpose. They are free and I am free. It has already begun to open up a space in me for new things to be created.
What about you? What have you done with your old Art? Is there a pile in your closet, under the bed, or at your parent’s home or some storage unit? Have you gone back and revisited it lately?
I encourage you to do so if you haven’t. It is a journey that may be filled with hidden treasures of hints, clues and insights from the past. That past may be begging to be completed for you too … with a promise of a possible fresh new streak of creativity in the process.
I am now off to the storage unit for the last time. 🙂
Feel free to share with me … as always I am thrilled with your feedback and any stories you may have … it is in our connecting and sharing with one another that I am always left so inspired!
Cleaning up is not my forte. Throw away things has been quite difficult for me. Always think I can still use it for something and which is often not the case. Recently I gave away a lot of old clothes and that went actually pretty good. Artwork I made 30 years ago I can not throw away even if I don’t like it anymore. It must have been difficult for you Kym when you found out that your art works were ruined by the water.
Jacqueline – I understand completely. I was thinking about you and the beautiful work that you had of the plaster of your mother’s hands and of the drawings you made when you were very young as I was going through the last of my art. We all are unique when it comes to our work. Perhaps for you what resonates is to keep it. Perhaps it is for you to keep experimenting with other things like your did with your clothing. I just know that, for me, the release was very freeing!
I am so impressed that you were able to do all of that. I am very sentimental and right now my dining room table is buried in what’s left of my mom’s stuff and she died 2 years ago. Not sure I really want the stuff but I know it’s the “last” and it was stuff she saved until the end, so it was important to her and I’m trying to get past that. Sorry, I know this is supposed to be about the art…
Lou Ann – Please don’t apologize … Our life is our art & our art is our life … it is all part of us. That storage unit of mine had been sitting there for 8 years because of my own version of exactly what you just described. There there was just this moment when I was ready for it. I let myself work through a lot of it with my art … it was a little interesting to me that in the end of the process I was facing into all of my old art … It was like a movement in both my life and my art to go through everything. I send you bright white light to guide you through what is there for you to move through.
Great post. I have never really considered parting with my old art. But, reading your story about how freeing it was for you and how it opened up new avenues of creativity… well… maybe… just maybe, I will at least consider it. Thanks for sharing your story.
Mary – Thank you so much … I consider you having a “maybe” about even considering it as a victory LOL … if it happens do feel free to let me know how it went. (i know that it really does sound crazy … if someone had told me that I would ever do what I did I would have told them they were nuts 🙂 )
Twice a year we have a gathering of several local artists and have a burn party. We all bring in failed start, piles of drawings, writing,
We gather around a fire pit watching the colors change as the flames destroy our wasted work.
It is all quite cathartic, plus lots of wine, good food and knowing we are not alone.
Drew – I LOVE YOUR BURN PARTY RITUAL!!!! Sounds like something that should spread everywhere!!!
I am Rosa and you gave me a gift by writing this article….I am still trying to overcome my precious mothers death 3years now.She left me an apartment and tones of things…I can still feel her smell…I adored her…but I have to say goodbye to all these things that they are the remains of my past….I also have to clear my painting and pottery work…You are giving me power to continue…Thank you so much.have a nice day…Rosa
Rosa – I am so grateful that I could provide you with some input to move forward. Thank you for letting me know! One of the things I really realized in my process with my family (mother, father, brother, grandparents, etc.) is that releasing their things did not mean that i needed to release them from my heart. I got to keep every memory & will have them forever. For me – they are all still with me. It was very much the same with my Art … I was just letting go of the physical/material representations not of the inspiration and memories of those pieces. I send you white light for your journey, Rosa!
Hi Kym, I also had difficulty in the past, letting go of my old artwork. After recently being married for the 2nd time, we bought a house, and took that time to reduce our storage of items. After asking my daughters if they would be interested in any older, current or future paintings, I was told that they probably would not, however, would be interested in my electric piano! Well, that sure helped me get over any sentimental feelings fast. So I gave the older art pieces to various charities or away for free. The younger generation seem to value photography of food or camping trip pictures. They don’t seem to have the same appreciation of the masters art works that I grew up with. So…..I continue to paint for the joy of painting and don’t worry about who or why I should keep anything. My collectors have shown great appreciation for my work and I hope to continue painting for many more years to come.
Monica – Thank you so much for sharing your reduction process. I giggled a little at your daughter’s response … exactly what we need to move past our sentimentality .. a little reality check with the young!!! I too create now for the sheer joy of creating … my little episode with my old art taught me so much, including that! Congratulations on the appreciation your Art gets from your collectors. I wen & took a peek at your work & was delighted … I completely agree with those who have said that your work has a “fantastic energy”. Here’s to you painting on & on & on!!!
OK. . . . YOU’VE DONE IT. You have convinced me about how to go about dealing with 40+ years of artwork which I’ve loved, respected and am having a very hard time to separate with. But now, suddenly, it’s as clear as the Southern California early mornings: I am donating some of it to a very worthy medical clinic, some of it is going to a ranch owner who so graciously allowed me to use his images over the years, a few small pieces are going to the permanent collection of a printmaker – – – AND the rest goes to an outfit similar to a goodwill store.
I am continuing with my current line of work – – – I need the paintings from the past 3 years for exhibitions before they will be printed as educational materials, but THAT IS IT.
I can already feel the ‘monkey off my back”.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for popping up on my email this morning, Kym. You were exactly the last straw that I so desperately needed.
Y-e-e-e-eee ha-a-a-a-a I’m outta here and on with my free and promising new life !
Estelle – WHOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Thank you for letting me know that I was the last straw! I love that honor!
Visual for you: Me sitting here in front of my computer with a GREAT BIG grin on my face!!!
I love that you have already determined how to separate your work out! You knew exactly what to do with them (funny how easy & intuitive it is when we decide to let go right?)
Make sure you really ENJOY each moment of giving away & distributing every piece you release as you get lighter & lighter in the process. Onward, Estelle!!! I am so happy for your new freedom!!!
Thanks for this post. I’m dealing with the exact same issue; basement full of art makes it harder to make art… if it doesn’t sell, where does it go? But, I may do it a little differently. I don’t think it’s always the most current work of artists, writers, musicians, that’s the best. I’m going to organize my digital images, take photos of what’s not photographed (at least the canvases), digitize slides, and then SPACE (sort, purge, arrange, compartmentalize, equalize) the physical art. keep ( to show, to sell, or up on the walls) the best of the old, and the best of the new. Figure out what goes on my website. And keep the physical limited to half my racks, so I’ll always feel that there’s space to create. The rest will given to charity= Art Connection, Goodwill etc.Thank you for your post. It’s helpful to read that and all the great responses.
Rebecca – Thank you sooooooo much for reading and commenting!! I love your view about how it is not necessarily the current work that is always the best!! That is so true!!! I also love your description of sorting, purging, arranging, compartmentalizing and equalizing. Great additions to the conversation for me/us!!!