Should I destroy them?
by Robert Genn

October 9, 2009

Dear Rodney,

Yesterday, Roscoe E. Wallace of Fort Walton Beach, FL, wrote: "Do you 
recommend painting over acrylic paintings or should they be kept for 
reflection? Since I've been at it for over 40 years, I have lots of paintings 
that used to be keepers, but which no longer show my present painting skills, 
my likes or my style. I wonder why I kept many of them. Should I destroy them? 
Or should I use them for supplies? I sometimes like the effect of painting 
over, but mostly this makes me lose my spontaneity and interferes with my 
current painting approach."

Thanks, Roscoe. Every so often we need to get busy and chuck--just in case 
some executor or offspring makes the mistake of thinking something's okay. 
There's enough bad art in the world already and we don't want to add to it by 
leaving substandard stuff out and about. I don't know about you, Roscoe, but 
that reflection you mentioned can be a living nightmare as well. We grow. We 
get better.  

Regarding painting over, it's a personal thing. Some painters don't mind an 
underlying failure and accept it for any texture it may provide. On the other 
hand, many painters feel a failed or flawed image jinxes a canvas forever. No 
matter how obliterated by overlying gesso, it's down there yelling that you're 
a lousy painter. 

A virgin canvas with a favourite ground has a kind of unsullied decency that a 
used canvas can never have. As spontaneity is a valued asset, dump the 
interference. Painters need to identify and tune into those seemingly minor 
fetishes that cause the spirit to flourish.  

Now for something completely different: Some artists have a sense of 
preciousness about every squiggle or splodge they make. They hang onto stuff 
with tenacity, even building archives to rival The Ark of the Covenant. I've 
always put this down to poor toilet training, but it may also have something 
to do with ego blow or the expectation of a place in the history of art. 
Curiously, this sense of intrinsic brilliance is a condition frequently 
rampant among artists whose work is of low challenge or difficult for anyone 
to criticize, including themselves.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "All that we are not stares back at what we are." (W. H. Auden) "I know 
it's very egocentric to believe that someone is put on Earth for a reason. In 
my case, I like to think I was." (Art Buchwald)

Esoterica: If you do paint new over old acrylics, make sure you remove any 
final protective coat before you lay down new gesso or other primer. Ordinary 
household ammonia takes off most final acrylic varnishes. Before you prime, 
you'll need to sand the surface as well. Sometimes a sanded surface yields 
something new and interesting--then you're back to the same old problem. Good 
luck.