What Are the Best Ways for Artists Not Named Andy Warhol to Handle Years of Unsold Art?

How to Handle Older, Unsold Art, and Excess Artworks Inventory?

The question of what can you do with unsold art is a perplexing problem for many artists. Unfortunately, most of the solutions found by searching the internet for how to handle excess art inventory are ineffective.. 

It is without question that figuring out what to do with unsold art is difficult. Marketing and selling art are difficult challenges, even for those who do such work professionally. Those artists who seriously work in the business of art often find they face significant challenges in consistently getting their work to market. That being the case, it's no wonder that unsold artwork inventory is a persistent problem.

Making More Than You Can Sell Is the Norm

These are things to consider:

  • The harsh reality is that most artists will create more work that does not get to market than those who manage to create a predictable selling system that regularly moves their work.
  • If artwork were widgets, it would be easy to say recycling or let them become rubbish.

However, for something lovingly crafted by hand from an artist's imagination, discarding excess inventory is a solution too bitter in most every instance.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

Understanding the Why Helps Know How to Handle the Inventory of Unsold Art

Before artists get themselves into the problem of what to do with their unsold art, I think it is most helpful for them to understand why they are making the work in the first place. No two artists have the same reasons for making art. In the Art Marketing Toolkit program ($4.99 per month with no contract), the second foundational chapter is called Goals, Dreams, Visions. The content's core is to help artists recognize what they expect to happen when they make art.

Making Art for Art's Sake Has Value

Some make art for art's sake and hope to sell it somehow even though they don't have a plan or know how to make that happen. Others make art because they know it will sell, and they are eager to keep making art that has commercial appeal because it is better than a day job.

I think most artists are somewhere in the middle of those situations. They love making art. And they are willing to concede to making art they that will sell even when it is not what they would make if sales were not the goal. They are also willing to spend some of their time marketing their work, but, for most,  not too much.

Making Art for Art's Sake Is Noble and Legitimate Even If It Leads to Unsold Art

Whether you make art for art's sake, make art specifically to sell, or are in the middle, unsold art is an issue. It's harder for artists who make physical products than some other disciplines. Supposedly, Bruce Springsteen wrote 1,500 songs before he recorded his first album.

A poet, playwright, or author might pen hundreds or more works that never get published. While it is a shame, their work is not filling storage spaces everywhere. Because it's not in their face staring back, it reduces the feelings of guilt many visual artists feel when constantly seeing their unsold works.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

And because such works are unseen and noticed, it eliminates some snarky or unintentional, but nonetheless hurtful, comments from others who notice an artist's body of work piling up. 

Typical Unsold Art Solutions and Their Associated Problems

Research the internet and you will find many versions of the same suggestions. Unfortunately, most only create other problems.

  • Paint over older pieces to create new artworks which adds to current inventory.
  • Modify older work to match the current style, which also does not reduce inventory.
  • Selling older artwork at much lower prices reduces confidence in current prices and may anger buyers of similar older works.
  • Gift art to family, friends, and others in the sphere of influence isn’t practical for productive artists because there are not enough people to go around.
  • Sacrificing older artwork to the gods in a spirit cleansing bonfire is an action most artists are not willing to take on their creative output even in a spiritual setting.
  • Give the art as a donation for a charity. Realistically, if the artist couldn’t sell the work most charities won’t be able to either, which is just passing the problem along without solving it.  

How Knowing Your Why Helps Answer the Question of How to Handle Unsold Artwork

The answer that makes the most sense to me is in the understanding of the why. You will have multiple reasons for making art, but there is a primary one. If it is to use your creative muscle and stretch your imagination, you are among the many. The second part of the solution is to permit yourself to be an artist who makes art for art's sake. That is to let go of any guilt you have about your work not selling as you would have wished for.

As I said at the outset, selling art is a hard thing. And most right-brained artists aren't willing to go against nature and dig into work at marketing their work. The result is an accumulation of physical works of art that are hard to sell. I don't blame them for being who they are. If anything, I can relate.

Marketing and Sales Are Often Hard Even for Professionals

Although I've been in marketing and sales for 40 years, there are things I could never bring myself to do. Had I been willing to lower my standards, violate my sense of fairness, and lose touch with my conscience, I could have used my knowledge and skills to enrich myself with ill gains, maybe not illegal, but still shady ways of making a buck. I could never do it. 

Having such self-realization makes it easy for me to understand an artist's reluctance to work on marketing in profound ways. Marketing is far from glamorous. It is hard work that takes a long time to produce satisfying results. By comparison, making art is a seductive, cerebral, even spiritual process about as far from business as one can get.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

The Physical Aspect of Unsold Art Is the Problem

The problem with most visual art is the storing of it as a physical object. If you don't want to give up the image, why not take it off the stretcher bars and roll it up? Sure, you can do the things mentioned above, but if you want to keep it, roll it up. How many pieces can you put in a single tube? You can inventory it with pictures to view on your tablet or computer. And you can revive any you wish at anytime with relative ease.

Keep Your Artwork and Lose Your Guilt

You don't have to be a master art marketer who sells every piece. You can be a happy artist who enjoys the process of creating art as your reason. If you find a few ways to sell your art that work for you, that's great! Just don't let anyone shame you, throw guilt, or tell you how to live your life, or be an artist. That's for you and only you to decide.  

Determine to Be on the Path of Creating a Well-Lived, Joyful Artist's Life

But whatever you do, make a pact with yourself to be okay with being an artist. You don't owe anyone an accounting of what you made and what happened to your artwork once it was complete. Realize you are free to be an artist who creates art for art's sake, and what happens to it in the commercial arena is secondary to that.

The goal of the Art Marketing Toolkit program is to help artists find the best ways to experience a well-lived, joyful artist's life, which includes learning enough about marketing art so they can make it work for them, their way. It's only $4.99 per month to join with no contract. 

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.


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  • Thank you. Perfect timing for this article. I am an emerging artist. Marketing is very tough. It’s been really hard for me it takes so much time without much results.
    Or any for that matter. I always feel like I’m stretched so thin and trying too many directions that nothing is working for.
    So thank you. I will not be burning my art just yet or having a steep discount. 😊


  • thank you for the encouragement, sir

  • I have read that Monet destroyed lots of paintings that didn't come up to what he wanted.

    You mention a ritual spirit cleansing – That DID happen to me when our house burned down. While that wasn't intentional, and there were quite a lot of paintings I grieved over losing, on the whole it was rather freeing. Everything I create now is current work, and I don't feel as attached to what I create anymore. Everything is ephemeral, when you come down to it.

    When I studied ceramics, the teacher encouraged smashing a new thrown pot or hand build, to get used to the fact that many pieces don't survive the fire. A very good lesson, and one I needed reminding of for paintings, as well.

    I celebrate the art that sold and found a home before the fire, some pieces just a few weeks earlier at a show.

    This is always a good topic to ponder on.
    Thank you

  • Thanks for the encouragement and confirmation! I'll be reading this one over and over, whenever I start worrying about all the paintings in storage! Planning for new venues and ways to get these pieces out into the world for 2021! 😉

  • Penny Johnson says:

    I have been working on watercolors lately. Much easier to store. But I still have quite a few oils.
    Thank you for reaffirming that it is alright to paint just because it is who we are.
    I just look at myself as an art collector.

    • You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure to offer help to you and other artists. It’s good to know my advice that it is perfectly okay to create without concern about marketing your work resonates with you. And, I love your self-description as an “art collector.” That is a wonderful way to perceive yourself and your situation.

  • william shirley says:

    Vala! You can send them all to me!

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