AIDrawingGeneral Art

AI: Art Regret

You know what I’m talking about. Ever make something and send it out only to later wish you could take it back and fudge it a bit—or even redo it completely? This is me all the time. It’s the reason I could never get a tattoo and that I wish I could sneak into George Hrab’s home in order to replace a drawing of him with a better one (more about this in another post). I cannot help but look back on past work with derision and regret. In a way, it’s a good thing. It’s an acknowledgement of my own improvement. But it’s also annoying. At it’s worst, it has crippled projects that I never start because I think to myself “Eh, wait until you can do it better. Don’t draw that now.”

How about you? How bad is your art regret? Do you have it at all? If you don’t, how to you keep it at bay?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

I chose this drawing as a header image because it is one of the few that I do not regret. It is still as perfect to me as the day I drew it. I also know that Amy would appreciate it.


Maki Naro is an artist, incurable geek, and lover of cooking, public radio, small animals, and Blade Runner. He comprises one half of the Sci-ence Webcomic's dynamic duo.

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  1. Whoooo golly yes. I am deeply ashamed of most of what I create. I tend to hold myself up to the masters of the medium that I’m working in whenever I do anything and nothing ever gets there.

    I get over it in two ways: 1 – I keep the things that I’m most proud of around. Even if they’re not perfect, they remind me that I don’t suck.
    2 – I keep my old art. If I ever feel like I’m wasting my time I just open a sketch book from a few years ago and I remember how much better I am now.*

    *Solution 2 has the secondary effect of creating art regret for works that I was previously proud of.

  2. Yes, it’s horrible & there is no solution except alcohol.

    But it is nice to see how you have improved. Though it also discourages me from my next piece.
    With painting especially I am not sure you as the artist ever see’s your work the same way other people do. You focus on the brush strokes, the lighting and your highlights and the image almost becomes abstract. Whereas the casual observer only can see the overall image. The mirror tick helps a bit though.

  3. “Eh, wait until you can do it better. Don’t draw that now.” <— That was me ALL through college. And it was almost crippling.
    I’ve gotten much better about it as my skills have improved. I’m now at the point where I’m confident to try my hand at almost anything because I know I’ll at least learn something in the process.
    Now I just need to get faster. I’m so damn slow at art-making.

  4. Nothing gives me a nice pick me up (and a good laugh) like looking through old sketchbooks. The hardest thing about art is the perpetual dissatisfaction with one’s current abilities being pitted against the slow pace of improvement. Seeing how far you’ve come is a good remedy.

    But that doesn’t mean I want it out there for people to see. My folks are the worst for never taking old stuff down no matter how much I badger them. I understand why they keep them, but geez! Too painful for me to look at that old junk.

    As for putting things off because I think I could do better later — if I genuinely don’t think my abilities are up to snuff for a particular project I’ve got in mind, I’ll set a deadline some time in the future (six weeks, six months, a year, whatever) for getting started. I find that these periods are probably my most productive in terms of artistic growth, since I spend so much more time focusing on fundamentals.

    On the other hand, I have a nasty habit of renewing my ‘learning periods’ once they’re up. 😉

  5. I really do not know what I am gonna start drawing until the pencil hits the canvas. So when I do look back at what I do, I can see nothing, but unexpected outcomes that most likely exceeded whatever I was expecting. I never really knew what to expect to begin with. Maybe that has to do with my inability to plan things out. Improvising seems more enjoyable to me in the short and long run.

  6. There’s a time to create, and a time to revise. It’s perfectly fine to indulge in “art regret” while you’re revising; it’s lethal any time before then. If you feel it coming on during your initial stage of creation, just tell yourself, there’ll be plenty of time for that later.

  7. I blame my lack of international status in art and literature on this. And on being impatient and lazy.

  8. This happens with musicians, too. If I record a recital or a gig I did, that recording is only listenable for a maximum of a month afterwards. After that, I can’t stand the idiocy of things I played, the bad judgements in note choice, or the crappy tone I had.

    The problem with going back and listening on purpose to see how far I’ve come, for me anyway, is that because I don’t have a concrete picture I can see depicting my ability in the present, listening to old recordings sometimes can trick my easily discouraged mind into thinking that I still sound like that NOW. Which is, obviously, incredibly disheartening. You just have to ignore that inner monologue and keep on going.

  9. My worst regret is a hastily done portrait of Jerry Coyne (I was doing a series of portraits of scientists I admire for university) and that I put this crude image up on my blog.

    And then Jerry commented and linked to it. *sigh*

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