What To Do With Those Unsold Works of Art?

There have been quite a few times when artists have asked me what they can do with those paintings and other pieces that have just never sold. Especially for those of us who are prolific, unsold works can really clutter up a studio. We all want to free up our spaces to make room—mentally and physically—for new work.

My honest answer is this: If you're a serious professional who is genuinely concerned about your artistic legacy, you might want to look very critically at those pieces. If they're not your best effort (we all have them!), and you feel that they might damage your reputation someday in the distant future, you should probably destroy/repurpose/recycle them. If they're still really good, just hang onto them and keep waiting for the perfect collector to discover them.

On the other hand, if you're not so concerned about that long-term legacy, you might want to consider selling those artworks at a reduced price. Here's an idea from the artists in the Seattle area: Every year, they get together for the Everett Artists' Garage Sale. It's a street fair like any other, but in this case, all the art for sale is priced to sell, as in everything under $100. The artists are also free to sell art materials and other art-related items that they no longer need or want. 

I attended the Garage Sale this past weekend, and I met one artist who says she does this every year simply because she produces so much work. At 10 AM, she had four rows of small encaustic and acrylic paintings on three walls of her booth. When I went back after noon, she was already down to two rows. Granted, she was selling everything for $10 to $30, so she probably only earned about $500. But think of how much space she cleared! And think of all the happy new owners of her work!

What do you think of a garage sale? I'd love to get your opinions. Let's connect!

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  • I have sanded my signature off and donated to the thrift store for early work that may not meet my current standards. Someone gets original art that hopefully puts a smile on their face.

    Sharon Sellet

  • Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for your comment. We’re in complete agreement — selling at a reduced price is definitely NOT the right move for every artist. I also loved your idea about educating public. This is something that I’m quite serious about achieving, but I’ve yet to land on a good way to accomplish it. I would welcome your ideas about this. A blog? Presentations? Is there info artists could add to their websites? Let’s connect!

    Jennifer King

  • Best way to kill your career! Short term gain for long term pain. If people know they can buy your work for $30, very few will pay you what your work is worth, IMHO. Very hard to dig yourself out of that hole. Unless of course you are a ‘Sunday painter’ with no aspirations for a career in art. What we artists need to do is educate the public on the value of original art, rather that to devalue it!

    Sharon Lynn Williams

  • Erin and Karen, I LOVE both of these ideas! Giving work away shares the joy of your art and makes you feel good. Great!!!

    Jennifer King

  • I make one of a kind jewelry. I just donated 39 pairs of earrings (that have been around way too long and just not selling), to a battered women’s shelter. They were Sterling silver and mother of pearl. The shelter seemed pleased with the donation and hopefully I will have put a smile on the face of some very hurt women.

    Erin Rossi

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