Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Swedish death cleaning for artists

Have you heard of the concept called "Swedish death cleaning"?  It's not as grim as it sounds.  The idea is that you do your heirs a huge favor by purging and organizing your extraneous stuff before you die, so that they don't have to.  The best-selling book that popularized the concept refers to it as "a gentle art." The promise is that by stripping out the inessential you can live a more stress-free, clutter-free life.

It's especially hard for artists to purge artwork, I think, because of the emotional, aesthetic, and monetary value attached to the art we've accumulated.  The current, April/May issue of American Craft features a helpful article called Planning Your Legacy.  How do you  plan for what happens to your artwork after you're gone?

It's all been on my mind lately as Sam and I purge and pack in preparation for a move across the country.  He's been photographing and I've been working in various fiber media for over twenty years, so we've generated quite a bit of work ourselves.  And then there's the art we have purchased, and the art we've inherited.  It's a lot, far more than we can hang on the walls at any one time.  (We do try to rotate what's on the walls regularly.)  So now we're faced with one tough call after another about which works to move, and which to let go of.

Regarding my own work, I've done a variety of things.  Some pieces have been sold at a discount.

Ways of  Looking at Dodd Creek #7.  Mixed media collage
(c) Molly Elkind 14" x 14"

Ways of Looking at Dodd Creek #11.  Mixed media bead embroidery.
(c) Molly Elkind  14" x 18"

Cardinals.  Quilt (cotton).  (c) Molly Elkind 54" x 70"
Some work I've given away.

Ways of Looking at Dodd Creek #6.  Mixed media fabric collage.
(c) Molly Elkind 14" x 14" 

Some work I've dismantled, taken out of its frames and shadowboxes, and saved in a smaller, lighter format for future reference or as potential raw material for future work.

Streambed:  Glacier.  Mixed media embroidery.
(c) Molly Elkind 8.5" x 11"

Gaps in the Sky:  Carolina Parakeet. 
Mixed media collage. 
(c) Molly Elkind 25" x 35" x 4" 

Some pieces that I no longer like, I've discarded.  Thrown out.  Trashed.   Apologies here for some less than stellar photographs of this older work.

Ways of Looking at Dodd Creek #4.  Mixed media fabric collage.
(c) Molly Elkind 12" x 24" 

Basket Case:  Improvisation.  Quilt (cotton). 
(c) Molly Elkind 38.5" x 38.5"

The 9/11 piece below was easy to throw out because it had sat in a cardboard box in the corner of our humid Georgia basement for 15 years, and showed mildew when I took it out.  A cautionary tale!

Into the Whirlwind:  September 2001.  Mixed media fabric collage.
(c) Molly Elkind 84" x 43" x 3"

It may sound shocking but it's surprisingly liberating to throw away work you don't like any more.  I think it frees up psychic space for new work.  Not everything we make is precious.  Some of it was only work we had to do to get ready to make the next piece, or the one after that.

That said, I did keep some older work that I especially like.

Six Sketches #6.  Mixed media embroidery.
 (c) Molly Elkind 14" x 12"
Cathedral.  Handmade paper sculpture.
(c) Molly Elkind 17" x 9.5" x 10" 

I'm really curious what you all have done in this situation.  What are your strategies and criteria for dealing with your work when it piles up, or when you have to down-size?  Let us know in the comments.