After we complete artistic projects we often wonder what to do with the leftovers such as material edited out of a film or a novel…Much like gleaners who show up in agricultural fields after a harvest, we too can re-use the leftover fruits of our endeavors…
The first time I heard of gleaning was when I watched French filmmaker Agnes Varda’s 2000 documentary The Gleaners and I. Then I encountered progressive communities that gleaned produce from farm fields which they donated to food banks or kept for themselves. While gleaning cuts down on waste in the material world as a type or recycling, the gleaning I’ll mention today focuses on ideas and leftovers from the creative process.
For instance, writers and filmmakers in particular often find some of their favorite phrases, dialogues and images edited from the final product. Or photographers end up with 100s of photos not chosen for a particular magazine spread or cover, but the photos still seem worthwhile and perfect for future projects. This leaves me to ask why artists keep reinventing the wheel instead of pulling from gleanings from previous projects? I do this too, file away fragments from a story or old dialogue without giving it new uses in other stories or projects.
We sometimes toss out good ideas because those ideas didn’t make the cut and like perfectly good fabric left behind after a design is complete, we have the option of reinventing that material or finding other use for it. In an age of recycling, composting and re-using in the material world, let’s consider using these same concepts in the artistic world. And it works for all disciplines from pottery, glass making, woodworking, painting, clothing and interior design, movie making, music composition, and novel writing.
Save those nuggets that don’t make the original cut. File away those dialogues and scenes, images, fabric and canvases to re-use later when inspiration strikes. Not too long ago I spoke with an artist about beautiful and mystical series of paintings she had on display in her studio. Originally she felt inspiration to paint the series, but then she lost interest partway through with one of the paintings. She ran into a problem she couldn’t solve at that time so she set aside the canvases until inspiration struck again. Then in a way, she recycled the series and even drew deeper meaning from the paintings, especially the one that gave her trouble earlier.
Don’t toss out manuscripts that receive rejection and then return to them later after honing writing skills. File away old projects and the notes that go with them then wait for inspiration to strike. It will. It always does eventually. Save those fragments for poems and songs, old dialogue, material scraps (as long as they’re large enough), and musical phrases that didn’t end up in the final composition. Use them for fire-starting a new project.
Finally, after every agricultural harvest, fruits, grain, beans, and vegetables lie on the field rotting, if no one comes and takes it. That leftover produce could still feed the hungry as any gleaner will tell us. It’s edible even if it doesn’t make market grade because of too many bruises or disfigurement. Often when we complete artistic projects we too are left with more material than we can use. However, with a second harvest of that material we file it away for later use, which we call creative recycling.
Film Trailer for The Gleaners and I