How-To Prepare for Death as an Artist

I was given months to live, and I had to make arrangements — fast. No one could actually tell me how much time I had, but I felt awful, and we were in the height of the pandemic. I had already made a Will years before due to my ongoing health problems since my first cancer diagnosis , and now, everything had to be updated and planned. Everything.

As an artist you have to arrange some things in a specific way. You make images, and thus have images — a lot of them. When I was asked for works and ephemera from an organization dedicated to preserving artists legacies, it made me glad I had some things in place for just this type of situation. (more than a year later I am still here) I now live my life in 3 month increments due to how often I get my scans.

Arabella by John Petchovic

I had seen this situation go bad, very bad. I won’t name them but several were artists and musicians who were famous. The things that were stolen, or hidden, or just how badly things were handled because no one knew what they would have wanted. The way their art was later used; many times used in ways that maybe they wouldn’t be happy with, but oh well. Sometimes the people you think would never fight about stuff, become monsters. Family members — especially estranged ones — become vultures.

These are things to consider if you are an artist. Yes, you do have a legacy whether you think so or not, and thus, you must prepare. If anything, it will make things easier for your friends/family no matter how old you are when you pass. Some of these tips are just things you should do for organization anyway!

  • Have good high-resolution images of EVERY single piece you have done, and organize where they are. I can tell you I thought I had this taken care of, but recently found out I had no good quality images of several pieces. In the mess that is my Dropbox due to thousands of images, and images on CDRs, I couldn’t find these pictures and I have no idea who bought them. So, make sure to stay on top of that. You never know when you will need those.
  • Keep an updated list of WHERE everything is; a gallery in inventory or in your various closets. Make sure you know, and most importantly, have that list and what each piece is worth! I have seen high-value items get sold for nothing on eBay because the person’s family were in a hurry, greedy, stupid, or honestly just did not know how to research. Nothing like a $700 frame going to a pawn shop! That book worth $200? It’ll get chucked in the recycling bin.
  • I have a tiny little book with a list of every painting I have ever done, it has the title, size, and if it was sold or gifted to someone. I started it when I was sixteen years-old.
  • Assign an executor, or at least someone who will be in charge of your collection of work when you are gone. They will decide what pieces to sell or to hold on to for possible exhibitions.
  • Aside from the executor, pick older pieces to gift to family/friends. Write it all down.
  • Keep a folder of all of your press clippings, web-only press should be printed out. Trust me on this. Those websites may come and go, but having it on paper makes it easier.
  • Make a plan for your social media. For instance, in my Will I have it that all my social media will be deleted — except for my actual website
  • Make a print catalogue! Posterity in print is important in a digital world. You can do this easily and at not much expense depending how many images you include. I did this showing some of my work from this series, here. There’s even basic site like Shutterfly if you don’t want to deal with book layouts and so on.
  • Consider turning your work into NFTs (yes, really)
  • Make a document with what to do for your family/spouse/friend who will be in charge: I have a document with a list of next steps, written out in a way so that my grieving husband can have breathing room and know how to delegate. Details even as grim and specific as the phone numbers of the funeral home and headstone place. I also designed commemorative T-Shirts for my funeral, so that image file is in there, too.

Yes you read that correctly, I designed a T-Shirt that will be handed out at my funeral. I took a poll and everyone agreed it was cool, and in fact, a nice memento.

I should have put the years in this book.

Perhaps you may have a retrospective, or a book published, and to have these things will only help you. I have watched an actual museum be made and dedicated to a good family friend. And besides, life is strange, what if a friend of yours decides to write about you?

You never know, the more objects, records, photos, and writings you have, the better. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m seeing documentaries be made about places and scenes I was part of, and movies where actors play people I knew in real life.

Again, life is strange.

portrait of Arabella Proffer

1 thought on “How-To Prepare for Death as an Artist”

  1. Hi Arabella. We met a few years ago when you were the DJ at Judd’s. I LOVED the music you played. We talked and you had a rubber unicorn hand puppet that you had “singing & dancing.” I think it was to ‘My Corrosion,’ by Sisters of Mercy. I saw you featured in the Cleveland Scene online and then HAD to read all your blogs etc. While reading I felt astonished, solemn, grateful, sad, happy, impressed and I often had goosebumps. I cried, I smiled. When I met you I didn’t know about your previous cancer and you hadn’t gotten the current diagnosis. During Covid I heard about the “Restrooms of Cleveland” book and am looking forward to reading/viewing it and am wondering if I will recognize any of them. I didn’t know you had such an array of talents across so many mediums. I bought your Black Unicorn painting on metal. I love unicorns. I absolutely love the piece and it is just so perfect going along with the experience of meeting you and that dancing unicorn! You had me cracking up! My heart and soul extend to you. I am immensely impressed by you for your talents, frankness, advice, suggestions, humor, attitude, YOU. Your friends and family are very lucky to have you in their life. I hope we can meet again, talk and you can sign your piece, so if you are ever doing an outing, please post in this thread or you can reach me at mrice4850 @ g****.com. and I will attend. I’m not on social media. ((Hugs))

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