Tragedy in the Art world.


I just finished reading a horrible story in the paper. Apparently a Romanian woman’s son stole a number of works of art from a museum in Rotterdam, paintings and drawings by Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Lucian Freud and more. Convinced that if the paintings no longer existed, her son could not be prosecuted, the woman burned them all in the stove. Experts analyzed the ashes and concluded that her grim tale is almost certainly true. These masterpieces are lost to the world forever.

As I sat in the kitchen reading this sad story, my mind wandered off on a tangent. How many works of art have I destroyed? Not literally in my kitchen stove, but in the furnace of my mind. How many paintings have I not done? How many drawings have I aborted? How many pots have I not thrown? How many films have I not made? I thought of all the times I thought I should do some drawing and instead watched “Real Housewives”. I thought about that etching class I was thinking of taking last year and didn’t. Poof, all those would-be etchings went up in smoke. Or that three-week trip I took to Japan when I didn’t do a single sketch in my book. Or that Sketchbook Film we planned to do about a fashion illustrator but never got around to.

This isn’t the monkey talking, brutalizing me for my indolence. It’s just a fact. Every time I find a reason not to create, the art I might have made doesn’t exist. It may not have all been great art, worthy of Rotterdam, but it would have been another step on the path to better art, more fluid, more expressive, more fun.

What have you not made? And how can we fight the fire?

24 thoughts on “Tragedy in the Art world.”

  1. What a horrible story about the robbery! The son and the mother should go to jail.
    What a lovely movie your idea of “burned art” would make. Stacks and stacks of discarded ideas, sketchbooks and loose pages just piling up as the “Housewives” play in the background…


  2. Hmmmm. I was just literally going through some of my Paper53 attempts at artwork on my Ipad2 and came across a piece that I do not like and almost deleted it but thought, NO, that piece is part of what I have done, so keep it, do not delete it. Then your post came up. I will not be deleting any of it…..and thanks for posting that. PS. I just bought and received two of your books, Everyday Matters and Creative License and started them. Looking forward to reading both of them. Please Keep on with your works and I will keep on following!
    Thanks, Sherie


  3. Real housewives burning art. I heard about this horrendous story too, how the thief and his cronies all too soon realized the art they stole in 5 minutes from the Rotterdam Kunsthal was so famous and valuable, they would never be able to sell it, not even to the most ignorant of Russian maffiosi.

    On the Dutch news they said the main suspect’s mother, realizing her son had done something really bad, “helped” him by burning the paintings. Talk about unconditional love.

    Oh, the educational-philosophical discussions to be had about this…

    As to the art not made and the roads not travelled, not sure if that isn’t monkey mind beating down on you, “brutalizing” you for your indolence. You wrote The Creative License, which is worth any number of portraits locked inside museums.

    I sympathize with your feeling, though. And hope you will make more movies in black and white. And movies about drawing.


  4. Wow. Think this is the kick in the rear that I needed. Ever since my portfolio of work was destroyed, I haven’t been able to (re-) approach my art without trepidation. It’s time to catch up, move on…. the book title “everyday matters” / “every day matters” sums it up.


  5. A wonderful reminder to trust that inner push – that “calling” – that tells us to create, whether it’s sketching, writing, gardening, quilting, taking photographs…It’s soooo much easier to allow ourselves to take the simpler route and commune with “Real Housewives.”


  6. Danny,

    the story about the burnt artwork is sad, yes.

    Heeding the call to create is sweet, necessary and very authentic, not just for artists but for everybody. But contemplating what did NOT get done/created/experienced sets up a scenario of lack, regret and guilt. It feeds into the culture-supported thinking of ‘not enough’… not having enough, being, enough, doing enough. We certainly already have enough of that! Sometimes the well goes dry, and that can be a very rich time of incubation, or just making room for the next creative burst that is strong enough to result in something I wouldn’t have followed had I kept trecking with every single idea and impulse that shows up. So I make a very clear choice to celebrate what I DO create, no matter how ‘small’ or infrequent. I trust that the work I’ve thrown in the trash belonged there, that it freed my attention not only during the abortion but also from storing, contemplating and hating those pieces. What a relief.

    Many thanks to you for offering such rich contemplations, always interesting.


    1. Good point, Damaris. To clarify, I didn’t actually beat myself up about it, just used it as an opportunity to remind myself how important it is to keep going. Sometimes I’ll flip through old sketchbooks and feel real gratitude to my former self for making those drawings and not doing some other forgettable thing instead. But I second your thought — be kind to yourself, don’t be a self-flagellating, slave-driving asshole but just keep on making things. I also thought that this story was another response to one’s inner critic, the idea that every time you are self-defeating and give up, you rob at least yourself of the pleasure of art.
      I love the quote on your website: “Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.”
      –Pablo Picasso


      1. Amen is all I can think to say. well that and my back is out and I am next to immobile. so, what to do? Draw the old roadster bicycle I want to buy and dream and will toward the day I will ride it to go sketching.


      2. Danny, you are exactly right… keep making things. And Pablo’s quote hits dead-on what you teach… show up, keep doing it, establish a habit. The miracles happen when they do. Thanks so much for all your teachings, I always recommend your work to students and peers alike.


  7. I didn’t start drawing until I turned 70! I often wonder, at 72, how much better I’d be had I started years ago! I’ve inspired my grand kids to draw. I wonder how great they’ll be at 72!


  8. I agree that the loss or destruction of artwork, any artwork, is a tragedy beyond belief.
    However, not committing pencil/pen/brush is a not a tragedy. Even though I am not physically drawing (because life sometimes gets in the way) I am still experiencing the process of drawing. I am seeing, gathering ideas, and observing the interaction of my world. I am noting objects, colors, textures, space and all the elements that someday will be in my drawings. Sometimes we simply need to observe. The drawings will come. It is not how many drawings we can produce but contemplating the world around us so we can express that in our drawings.


    1. I also notice flowers, grasses and trees as I walk past them and think about what it would be like to draw them. A couple times a week I also put pen to paper. My husband likes digital photography. He takes 800 pictures to my one drawing.


  9. The idea of Danny sitting and watching Real Housewives would never have occurred to thanks for a funny moment!


  10. Oh my gosh, I was just writing this to Amy D’Apice, artist and teacher I met today in her sketching-outdoors class (a class I nearly didn’t go to simply out of fear…it’s been so long). The holding back, choosing not to make the art I have the impulse or longing to make. Life is short.


  11. Yes, very sad news and a terrible lose. However, I wouldn’t complain for not doing any activity. Maybe I see it from the aficionado point of view and the pros have a different idea. I always try to maximize the fun. If I am not drawing surely I am doing another activity in which I am also getting fun, otherwise I’d be drawing which is pretty fun! I always try to be positive.


  12. Somehow I can’t picture Danny Gregory absorbed in Real Housewives! Made me laugh out loud! But your post is right on the money…I’m a huge procrastinator, afraid of the blank page, so needing to express myself visually, but can’t get over the fear factor—not good enough, not worthwhile, blah, blah…I’m falling behind in my 75 drawings in 75 days…what a dunce, eh? It’s not like I have a lot of time…I’m 74 yrs old and have been drawing intermittently for the past 4 years. This post really set the wheels in motion! Thanks for your insight and your postings each week.

    Sickening about the destruction of precious art work by the thief’s mother.


  13. Thanks for another insightful post Danny. This resonates with so many of us—you do realize a book is brewing, no?


  14. I had stopped reading your posts awhile back, too much to see and take in on the internet, it was overwhelming so i quit for a bit, but since you have changed your life i have started again, it has been interesting to watch you struggling with less clear choices, and i am catching up on a few older posts…. This one really struck a chord, (and i have never uttered the words “struck a chord” in my life, funny how one types differently than one speaks), anyway, i was about to paint over some of my old watercolors with acrylics, in a jesse reno, flora bowley kind of way, and now i am not sure. It wouldn’t have been a huge loss, the early watercolors really do suck, but should i eliminate them from my past, i also was going to burn old journals, just words, no art, but now, i have one more reason not to….. We shall see….


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