What will happen to the things you have created when you’re no longer on this earth? Perhaps your artworks will still be displayed in galleries, sold as prints or exchanged as greetings cards. Your books may still be sold in book stores, loaned from libraries, quoted by readers. Maybe your works will be kept simply as tokens, treasured by your children or grandchildren as a memory of you. Or they may be destroyed, turned to dust or landfill or recycled into something else. Perhaps a single painting will survive, somewhere, loved by someone, though that person will never know who you were or what your purpose was in making it. Or a last copy of your book will be found in a second hand book shop, loved and re-read every year by a stranger.
I bought a painting recently. It was displayed prominently in the window of a local framers, the biggest thing in the window, in an old garish frame that didn’t complement it. But the painting transfixed me. I found it strange and unusual, but it was quite expensive so I walked away. I passed the painting for another two days on my way to and from work and eventually, I had to take it home. The framer could tell me nothing about it, or the artist. I tried to decipher the signature enough to research it without any luck. Not knowing its history doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of it, but it did make me wonder about its history. Is the artist alive or dead? How did they feel when they sold the painting? Was it, in fact, sold at all or did it end up in some kind of house clearance? Did the artist have any success, did they give up painting because of a lack of it, or were they simply an amateur that painted purely for enjoyment?
I watched a documentary recently about Dutch art. It talked about the subsidies given to artists in the past, which resulted in vast quantities of art being produced, of varying quality. Most of it is now stored on rolling stacks in a huge warehouse, never to be viewed again. It strikes me as sad that so much art is produced that will never be seen, so much written that will never be read. This is the lost and forgotten art, work that took so much effort to produce but will never be valued by the world. Yet I also find it exciting that there is so much out there that could still be discovered, or re-discovered. I would like to think that somewhere in the ether, there is a sort of spiritual archive of all the creative work that has ever been produced. A kind of celestial gallery and library of paintings, books and stories where all of these works still exist for someone to discover. Or maybe all of this creativity just soaks into the collective unconscious, so that we all benefit from it without really knowing it.
But don’t we all have our own forgotten art? The old files or notebooks full of stories never finished. The discarded sketchbooks and canvases filled with ideas that were never realised. The work that you completed but didn’t deem good enough to keep. Things you did as a child but threw away because they were too immature to be any good. Now that I’m older and have more compassion for myself, I can see the value of these things and sometimes feel grief that I no longer have them. I wish I had kept at least some of them, not so much for the value of the items in themselves, but because they would illustrate my development as a creative person. They are part of the history of who I am.
Even now, when I recognise the value of my own creativity, I don’t always treat my work with respect. I have paintings stacked in the spare room that should be varnished or framed. Portions of stories written on scraps of paper and stuck in a drawer. Files on my computer that aren’t backed up. But in order for the world to value our work, we need to value it too. Even if the only gallery it will appear in is a heavenly one, it has worth because of the time and effort invested to produce it. And that’s the lesson for me. If I want my work to be remembered, I first have to value it myself.