Sometimes a perfectly good, though mediocre, painting is pushed past the limits of what it is capable of becoming. It then either has to perish and be forgotten, or it can rise like a phoenix and become something totally different and, perhaps, strange. The question to the artist is this: If you are sensitive enough to realise a work’s limited potential, do you leave it be or kill it off, like an unsentimental breeder with the runt of the litter?
It may not be great art and it may not be up to your standards, but it may yet have given someone pleasure. It may even be, however unlikely, a masterpiece—because who are you to judge?—whose demise will be mourned by art historians in centuries to come.
Is it then just pride that drives your decision to destroy it? You do not, after all, want to be associated with inferior work. Or is it a higher feeling of magnanimity towards mankind, whom you do not want to burden with another piece of wannabe art? More than likely it is just frustration—you know you’re flogging a dead horse, but you can’t stop hitting. Let it go to hell then, and good riddance.
It is also possible that your painting, like an underappreciated racehorse filly, does have the genes of glory, and it is you who lack the geniality to take it there. Your midwifery only reaches to mediocrity.
I have killed off many paintings-in-the-making by forcing on their fresh and mute mediocrity my desire for profundity and meaning. I have taken photos of some, and the images of stillbirth saddens me. Others only survive in the hidden layers of paint under better, more satisfying paintings, the base layer of a palimpsest. Perhaps in future I will be more careful and caring. I will send them off, free to a good home and incognito, denying all authorship, and get on with the business of creating new ones from scratch.
But for now, here I am again, breeding chimeras from packhorses. Even these may never win any race, but heck, it’s such fun trying!