There is an almost contradictory value in the unseen pieces of art, sketches, doodles and drafts that artists produce. The time spent sketching, researching and experimenting, without the intention of the work ever being shown, is invaluable creative time. This time that goes unnoticed is fundamental to the evolution of any artist’s creative process. Working for hours in private, researching, practicing, playing and not knowing where the process may lead can be incredibly fulfilling. Other times, it can be the most destabilising part of perfecting an art.
The need to retreat in order to create, to turn one’s attention inward and intentionally seek solitude in order for something truly authentic to emerge, can cause some artists to go through phases of not producing work. Having experienced it in my own creative process and witnessed it happening in the lives of other artists, not creating and doing something completely different (sometimes even for several years) can be intrinsic to refining one’s own form of expression.
When I was on a jury panel for art students’ final degree assessment, I would ask to see their sketch books and spend time looking at the preparatory work done for the piece being juried. It is often in the closed pages of an artist’s sketchbook, in the scribbled notes jotted down next to an abstract mark, that I am able to give a fair evaluation or open a pertinent discussion with the student. For many artists, these pages that are not meant to be seen are very personal. These pages do not lie. They do not have any particular aesthetic aim, and I find beauty in that raw, uncut preview of the artist and their work. That crudeness/ naturalness is often what I find to be missing in today’s need for quick and pre-defined “perfect” beauty. It is as if we are no longer allowed to create and experiment just for the sake of it. The focus is on the final result, rather than giving the steps along the way the necessary space and time to develop anything of real depth and personality.
It can be disheartening, and trigger all kinds of “what’s the point” feelings, to see finished pieces stack up in the corner of a studio or be added to the “to be framed (one day)” piles. What will happen to those pieces? Why hold onto them? Having regrettably decided in my mid 20s to take a break from art and throw out everything I had ever made, I can safely say, I have learnt from that mistake and would not encourage anyone or myself to do so again. Today, with gained experience and maturity, my stock of unsold work is one of my main motivators for continuing to work and seek opportunities for exposure and sales. I relate to my collection of unsold work as a bank of creative wealth. It is there because I made it. It is a testament to all the hours I have put into developing my individual visual language. The more work I produce - regardless of whether it sells - the more I have practiced for a following piece and the more the chances grow that my language will communicate something of meaning to others.