Banksy made news again last week when his painting “Girl with Balloon” sold for $1.4 million at auction and then promptly self-destructed via a shredder that was built into the frame.
Self-destructing art isn’t as unusual as it may seem. My son-in-law is an ice artist, creating intricate carvings that he knows will last only a few hours. Our stories, too, self-destruct, though not so dramatically as Banksy’s painting, nor as intentionally.
As a teacher and editor, I’ve seen stories, essays, and novels self-destruct because their authors couldn’t bring themselves to finish them. It’s all too easy to write yourself into a hole and become disoriented. A good critique partner or writing coach can often help you find your way out.
I’ve also seen stories self-destruct because their writers had too much ego involved. They had trouble separating their stories from themselves, and the stories suffered for it.
But in other ways, self-destructing is part of the natural life cycle of our work. We hope our work will outlast us, but in truth, books go out of print. Libraries discard their copies. Work that’s available online may be cached forever, but as years pass, it’s less and less likely that anyone will look for it.
We may as well acknowledge that our stories and poems and essays and books will slowly self-destruct, becoming more and more obscure. Knowing this, we can let go—and move on to the next project.