| The Degas Syndrome |

The story goes that Degas once visited the home of a collector in Paris, saw a painting he had completed some years prior hanging on the wall, took it down and marched off with it, insisting that there were some things he needed to correct.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, Self-portrait (Degas au porte-fusain), 1855

All of us have felt this at some time or other: “But I would make it so much better now.”

My advice?

Leave it.

It is the nature of the creative process and all of Creation, really, to continually evolve.
Your mind, your thoughts, your skills, your interests are all moving perpetually forward. So it can be embarrassing or even painful to look back on what you have created in the past.

It can make you wince.

The urge to remake it or fix it can be strong.

But it would be as absurd as the notion of trying to go back to your high school with all the knowledge, experience and confidence you have gained as an adult to “Do it right this time.”

Why repeat high school?

What would be the point?

Leave the past behind and use all that you gained from experience to play better at the NOW game.

Responses to “The Degas Syndrome”

  1. Parvin Peivandi

    Thanks Michele,I learned from it….Thanks for inspiring us always,

  2. Beatrice

    Interesting story about Degas… and good advice to seize the moment and let it recede…

  3. Judy Glore

    I think I’d just be happy a collected still had my painting.
    Nothing is ever finished.


  4. Susan M

    Thanks, Michele: As a beginning artist I very often…okay,let’s say always…get caught in this syndrome. From today on, I will leave my paintings alone when they are finished. The next ones will always be better, and I’ll be able to look back and see how far I’ve come.

  5. elka

    This soothes me after coming across my old zines and artists books while cleaning my closet last weekend; I had the urge to destroy them, and I cringed at the thought that I shared editions of these embarrassing artifacts at the time of their publishing. They were so raw, and wounded, and open, and I’m now trying to think of them as reminders of growth. At least I was brave, right? To have made them, as imperfect as they were? Now that I’m trying to get back into making art, I’m glad to have at least found traces of strength.

    • Michele Theberge

      *sigh* I know that feeling of cringing over old work. But I guess the opposite would be know growth, right? Let’s embrace that fledgling Elka creative self and give her a hug and a hurrah for getting out there!

  6. Paul, Broadmead

    Taking the Degas story even farther, his visit to the Louvre with brushes and paint to touch up his work. However, Michele’s Taoist approach strikes a chord in my heart.

  7. Reddy

    Thanks Michele,
    I was just thinking about redoing a piece that I finished years ago and something didn’t feel appropriate now but I agree…let it be.

  8. Roz

    Guilty as charged. I didn’t know it was a syndrome, but comparing myself to Degas does have some benefit. Seriously, I’ve never gone back and touched up an old painting like he did but I do sometimes take a long time to finish some paintings. Some might sit around for a long time, years in fact, and then suddenly I will have the urge to do something to make them better. I just figure I needed the time to see how to do what it needed.

    • admin

      Hi Roz! Thanks for writing!. You bring up a VERY important point. Sometimes you do need a break from the work to get some distance on it. Although we are not always aware of it, I think we all know deep inside whether we are being perfectionists and it is inhibiting our flow of creativity or if we are following the the natural rhythms and cycles of creativity which may indicate a break is needed. It just takes becoming more conscious of how our decisions and actions affect us and our process. Hence, the concept of the mindful artist. I like sharing with others who are interested in bringing more consciousness to their art career and practice.


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