Attachment Syndrome

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (from

Many artists become attached to paintings. Each painting is a self -portrait in a sense, regardless of subject.  Creating a work can feel almost like birthing a child.    It’s hard to abandon a painting for someone else to possess when so much of self is in it.  Abandonment is painful. And once the painting is gone the abandonment is complete.  Maybe we delay completion, to delay the pain of separation.  Each artwork is the outward expression of an inner emotional reaction.  It can be difficult to let go of that response.  In some ways, it feels like abandoning our self to someone else.

Artist Emily Rose describes her process of emotional expression through her painting.  Depending on the emotional space of the artist, as Emily Rose describes it, a painting can possess various levels of the manifestation of feelings.  Likely, this same thing happens to many of us.  A painting then becomes the outward symbol of our inner feelings.  Letting go of a painting means letting go of inner feelings.

How do we objectively let go of paintings with feelings splattered all over them?  How have other artists overcome this dilemma?  Any suggestions?


Author: MaryGwyn

Artist-Art Educator-Art in Healthcare

17 thoughts on “Attachment Syndrome”

  1. My mother was a painter–oil paints.
    I don’t know how she felt about letting her paintings go.
    I am a singer, so I don’t have the same problem.
    The song goes out into the air. There is no way for me to keep it, unless I don’t sing.
    But if I don’t sing, there is nothing there.

  2. So glad you popped up on my blog – I’m having exactly this problem! I made the mistake of putting one of my favourite pieces up in my kitchen… I have an exhibition in four days and I can’t decide whether to take it… My mother suggested that I just price it at the only point I’d be willing to let go.
    Still not sure… some pieces are important milestones and can’t be let go just yet.
    On the other hand… none of us have enough room to keep it all! I keep some stuff facing the wall – that way I don’t get attached.

    1. Thanks! I love your mother’s wisdom. You are right that none of us have enough room to keep it all. I, too, have some milestones that I just haven’t been able to let go of yet. I think I will apply your mother’s wisdom to them!

  3. It’s not just painters – long ago and far away I wrote a computer programme – it took me along time and it did something really useful. Within a year it was completely redundant. I kept the printout of the programme for twenty years – nineteen years after it had lost any purpose – before I found the strength to throw it away. (but I still remember it, you notice.)
    I’m sure anyone who puts time and effort (what else is the definition of a part of themselves?) into something becomes attached to it.
    Sorry, no help on how to let go here is there?

    Perhaps the best thing is to think of these things as your children – they go off and live their own lives (often against your better judgement) but they are still a part of you and always will be.

  4. I find this essay very relevant to what I am going through lately. I’ve sold work on and off over the last 20 years and had mixed feelings every time I sold a piece. I was pleased to see it go out into the world where it would be appreciated but I absolutely felt a sense of loss. Fortunately, most of my work went to friends or acquaintances so I knew where it was and could even visit it.

    In the last year I have transitioned from part time to full time artist. I have to market my work more aggressively and use agents and galleries to help me sell enough to live. This has presented a number of unexpected practical and emotional issues. I’m still sorting out my boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in terms of the placement and reproduction of my work.

    Where I have landed in general speaks to the comment about the paintings being my children. Or better yet, I’ve come to see myself as a steward. I need to do the best I can to ensure good placement or at least engage reps who will respect my wishes. I try to do the best for the work I can, knowing that I, as host to the inspiration, need to be clothed, fed and housed to survive to paint more. At the moment it’s a work in progress but it’s a worthy endeavor.

    In my opinion cycle of the work is not complete until someone is experiencing it and benefiting from it. That being said, sometimes that person is me. I’ve come to realize over the years there are certain works that are so personal and meaningful to me I won’t part with them. I don’t price them high, I just don’t market them. They are “Collection of the Artist”. I think it’s important we as artists recognize which pieces those are so we hold onto what we cannot afford to give away.

    1. Like you, I have some that I just can’t bear to part with. I think I will give myself permission to let those remain in the “collection of the artist!” Thanks for the great reply!

  5. When I was little I entered a newspaper contest for children. I drew the best orca whale I could! I was very attached to it and sent it in assuming it’d come back to me. It didn’t and I was heartbroken. The only way my mom could make me stop crying was convincing me I could do a better one. And you know what? It may take a few tries, but she was right; I van always do a better one. Every picture helps develop my skills further. There’s always room to improve.

  6. As for myself, I agree that everything I do in graphics, drawing, painting or photos, everything that I do is joy for me, and an expression of my inner self on various levels, but somehow I have never felt possessive about these expressions of myself. I give them to others easily and with pleasure. It makes me happy if they like the thing. It is a giving of myself. I do not have to think about it – it is an emotion.
    ( What I do not like are those who want them for their own monetary ends. Freely taking ideas and things that they have not created. But they are easy to spot and I eschew them…).

    1. Thanks! I confess that I am not able to give that freely but am striving for it. I do agree it is a happy feeling when it gives someone else pleasure. Yes, the ones who take things they have not created are not very nice people.

  7. The problem is with letting go when your heart was given to the painting, but, as with grief, time allows a little relief from the time soon after completing a work. At least I find it so. I say this, but have too many pastels and paintings still with me.I admit that I do get upset when after giving or selling a work, someone takes it down from their wall in order to put up something new. Does that bother you? It seems their re-decorating is a rejection of my hard work. Does anyone else feel that way?

    1. It does feel like so much of your heart is in each piece. Some people are able to let go more than others, I think. I always find it hard. And its especially hard if the art doesn’t mean as much to the buyer as it does to the artist.

  8. Certain pieces I did for myself, sometimes without knowing it, I keep those until one day, they feel different and then I know that I’m ready to let them go. Until then, I keep them with me, knowing that it wouldn’t be right to let them go until both of us know the time is right:)

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