Does a creative project have to be completed to matter? Buckminster Fuller, one of the great scientists and thinkers of the 20th century, is famous for many concepts that exist only on paper. While we may not all become famous, our own unfinished projects may have more value than we think.
Many artists have benefited from resisting the urge to throw out sketches. Lee Krasner famously made a career out of repurposing her old works from art school. Krasner’s portfolio languished for nearly a decade in an old barn before she decided to cut up the drawings and reassemble them into what is now one of her most famous works, entitled “11 Ways to Use the Words ‘To See.'” In retrospect, Krasner realized that bringing fresh eyes to old work was just what she needed. “I began to look at them as if they weren’t me — simply pieces of material for making new work,” said Krasner. “The idea that I’d done the drawing 30 years ago and could use them now excites me.”
Beyond serving as fodder for new projects, unrealized ideas may have value in their own right. Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has spent the last 15 years of his career trying to bring artists’ work out of sketchbooks and studios into the light of day. After publishing a book cataloguing unrealized public works, Obrist partnered with e-flux to found the Agency of Unrealized Projects (AUP), hoping to create an international exhibition featuring artists’ uncompleted projects. Their mission statement notes, “Unrealized artworks tend to remain unnoticed or little known. But perhaps there is another form of artistic agency in the partial expression, the incomplete idea, the projection of a mere intention?” When Obrist and his team first called for submissions back in 2011, they received over 1,500 proposals encompassing all sorts of work, from rejected proposals for public art to fantastical towers that would orbit the earth. (Right now, AUP is accepting submissions for a new exhibition in Berlin, giving more works a new chance to been seen.)
Before tossing out your undeveloped sketches, consider holding onto them so that one day, you can harness the power of reflection that Krasner found when she was surrounded by her past work. “I had them pinned up all over the studio… and at one point I looked at these [drawings] and was highly dissatisfied with them and just started to take them off the wall and rip them up – and threw them on the floor as I was doing this,” recalled Krasner in an interview with the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. “And then my eyes fell on them, and I became very excited about what was beginning to happen there.”
What does your sketchbook hold?