Burning My Art
I found myself procrastinating. It wasn't warm enough outside yet. I needed to make another cup of tea. There's something in the house that I forgot. No. The air temperature outside was perfect, I was caffeinated enough, and I had everything I needed to light a fire and throw my art into it.
Burning artwork was never a goal of mine. But here we are.
It was over a week ago that I was feeling depressed about being surrounded by stuff, material things, objects that sit around with or without purpose. No space to walk, no space to think or feel. I was suffocating mentally. And then my desire to create art completely halted. Why create anything? It only takes up space---something that was beginning to seem more and more precious to me.
I lamented my lack of ambition for my work to my husband. The lack of ambition had an attachment to it too: if I don't create, then I don't have value anymore---end of story. The next words I spoke were merely thoughts that fell out of my mouth: "I just want to burn everything. Not in a 'kill the world' kinda way, but in a 'I just need space' kinda way."
In his brilliance, my loving partner looked at me and declared, "I think you just described your next art project to me." I know my eyes lit up. Everything lit up in me. The fire that would consume my artwork began its blaze in that very moment. The lightness of that single idea had struck a chord. It had to happen.
A question that a friend asked before any actual flames were lit---and you may be asking this---why art? Why not burn an old decrepit table or other junk that I no longer need? Was I running the mistake of equating my art with everyday objects? I wasn't. Quite the opposite, to incinerate something beautiful, to gain through loss, became my intent. By destroying, I create. Everything evolves, transforms, and is transient. One of the most inspiring and disconcerting aspects of fire is that it sets into motion evolution, transformation, and transience so rapidly that it's almost too fast for us to emotionally cope with it. So we call it "destruction."
Another friend asked me if it was a cathartic move for me to burn my art. Initially, no. Although looking back as I type this, it may have had some elements of catharsis. In this round, I burned three different paintings. Two of them no longer served me emotionally or professionally. One of them could have gone on to serve me---to be added to or simply framed as it was---but I chose to burn it.
About the paintings that went up in flames
I created the "Fuck You" painting in February 2014, about one week after a motor vehicle accident caused by another driver. Our truck was totaled and my husband and I both sustained injuries. The worst injury, however, was my broken sternum. The physical pain and anger that I felt were too much to bear. Drugged, I painted through the pain. I cried, I waled, I slashed the canvas. Creating this painting two years ago was about releasing anger; letting it turn to ash now was simply a way to transform it into its next state.
The little triptych of "moons" was an unfinished commission from last year. I lacked the experience and professionalism at the time to appropriately handle the requests of my client and to protect myself as the artist. I terminated the project with the other party (who seemed neutral about it) and learned from my shortcomings. These paintings remained in my studio as a reminder to never put myself or any future buyer in that position again. But I know what to do now. I don't need the reminder anymore. So it burned.
The last piece that was added to the fire had no title. It was an acrylic abstract that I had done about 10 years ago. I always found it lovely. I wanted to frame it someday or, as mentioned above, add onto it to make it even more astounding one day. It was probably my very first abstract painting ever. (Ah, there's the sentiment!) I felt the most resistance when burning this piece. And in that resistance, I found the courage to throw it onto the hot heap. I broke through my fear of the loss of this work. I faced my social conditioning to try to let something beautiful last forever as it was and I burned it. I made that choice.
So I created space. That was my art. I also realized that in the act of destroying that my "value" as an artist or even as a person never changed. I am valuable whether or not I create, whether or not I do my job, whether or not I have awards or recognition. Whether or not I have space. Or loss or gain or neither. My value is inherent---end of story.
But wait! There's more! It doesn't end there. Nothing ends. The ash. The ash went into a bucket. The plan now is to add these remains to other mediums to throw onto other canvases (or whatever) for texture and color. So yes, I will create again... if it serves me. And if it serves you for me to do so.