Do You Look At Your Older Work?

Do You Look At Your Older Work?

Last time we pondered the role of context in our work.  The question this time around is:

Do you often look back at your older work?  If so, what is the reason (practical, inspirational, sentimental)?

I look back at older work frequently. I view it as flipping through a musical diary of sorts. Each piece, each style change, each refinement of a skill reflects the path I’ve traveled. This is important because in order to properly assess who I want to be going forward I feel I need to examine who I was and who I’ve become.

Looking back can also reveal topics, themes, and techniques that once intrigued me and for one reason or another I moved away from. The review may reignite my interest in one of those areas and I can bring new light to it with the experience gained since I last tinkered with the idea.

Looking back can be motivational, in terms of seeing progress over time, the different areas I’ve been able to become competent in, and also just seeing that I’ve created a large volume of work over many years (this is particularly helpful in those moments of self-doubt).

And then looking back can be done for sentimental reasons. My first musical pieces were so basic and used incredibly cheesy sounds. But I’m proud of “old me” for sticking with it even though I knew I wasn’t very good at the time and wasn’t getting much outside praise. It helps remind myself why I started writing music in the first place. For the love of it.

Matt Hanna
Musician/Composer/Teacher/Personal Coach/Lover of Thinking and Learning
Boston, MA

I do look back at old work and I do it quite often. I enjoy it too. I look back because my films are, for the most part, celebrations of amazing people, and watching them takes me back to that person and the time we spent together. I look to see what I could do better. I look to see what I did right. I look back with, pencil in hand, so I can fine tune my artistic style. I love love love filmmaking and I make films that make me smile and inspire us all to be a better people.

Steve Olpin

I think looking back at your own older work is one of the most important parts of growing as an artist. Not only for sentimental reasons to look back and see how far you’ve come, but to see your old work with new eyes.

I learn something with each piece I create and my skills grow stronger. Whether I intend to go back and make edits or simply self-critique my early work, looking back at old pieces with the knowledge I’ve gained over years of creating can bring to light poor artistic choices or areas in which a piece is lacking. When I’m working on a creation, I spend so much time with it that I can get too comfortable with the way it’s developing. It’s only when I take a day or two off from staring at my work that I can more objectively decide what changes I need to make or what direction I need to take the piece in. It’s kind of like stepping outside of my mind’s echo chamber and asking the opinion of a less biased party. Details that once seemed like a smart addition may later look too cluttered, or a generous amount of negative space could look too empty once revisited. The same thing can happen when I come back to my older work. I am no longer married to the choices I made when I was creating the piece, and I can judge my work with a less partial opinion. It’s these moments of returning to older work and critiquing my creations that I learn from my mistakes. When I take these new lessons with me to my new artistic endeavors, only then do I begin to see dramatic improvements in my skill level and efficiency.

Although it’s essential for your own artistic growth to be constructively critical of your old creations, remember to take pride in your early work because it’s a memento of where you once were. You couldn’t be the artist you are today if you hadn’t made those rough first pieces and learned along the way. It can be fun and beneficial to compare old work to new work and see the areas in which you’ve improved. In this way your older work is tangible evidence that you’ve progressed as an artist because you put in the time and effort it takes to become great.

Lily Patterson
Graphic Designer
Seattle, WA

Yes. I do look back at my older work for various reasons. Reason #1 is for improvement. Looking back at my older work allows me to see whether I have improved or not. Sometimes, I will think that if I get to do that project now, how would I do it differently? Why would I decide to go with that way at that time? It is a good self-reflection process. Reason #2 is for inspiration. The world is changing every day. As we grow older, there are more responsibilities and more roles for us. Our creativity might have gone down compared to our university life. Looking at my older work allows me to seek for some new inspiration and reminds myself of the passion that I’ve been searching for.

Kitty Huang
Graphic Designer
Toronto, Canada

I do occasionally look back at my older work. It is practical when I have to put together my portfolio to show someone. I look at all my work and what are the best pieces I can put in. I want to show what I can do. I also like to look at my past work for sentimental reasons. I still like most of the pieces I have done when I was starting out in my work and going through school. It is great to see how far I have come and how much I have grown in my craft. I do have to keep most of the work I do so I can use it in my portfolio and build up my portfolio as I am growing as a designer. I constantly have to look at everything to choose what I want to show.

Desiree Zielinski
Graphic Designer
Scranton, Pennsylvania

As a writer I strive to improve each day. My experiences, research, edits, and colleagues lend a helping hand in improving my art of storytelling, grammar, and engaging the reader. That means, my old work is probably not as good as my recent work.

Some writers never read a piece again as soon as they send the final copy off to their editors. Not me. Probably for every reason listed in the question. I do it for practical reasons: Often the published version of your piece still has final edits that you have not yet seen. It’s good to go through and see how your editor altered last minute details to fit their specific audience. Looking at these changes can be a learning experience to see how the editor shapes each piece to reach their readers. I also look back at old pieces to re-edit articles on my website. Most of the articles I write, I also post on my website. Since it is now a representation of my writing and someone can come across an old article without knowing it’s old, I’d like it to be well written and edited. Problem is, I haven’t gone through all of them and now they probably need re-re-edits!

Reading old work can also be inspirational and sentimental to me. In writing, there are a lot of rejections to handle. You must have tough skin. One way to maintain confidence and hope, is to look back at past pieces you feel strongly about or that were published in a reputable place. Having one bad day, or even a string of them, doesn’t mean you are not improving. One way to keep pushing forward is to revisit the excitement of a past piece, and use that energy to drive your next creative project.

Naima Montacer
Environmental Adventurer
Dallas, TX

What do you think?


Photo by Matt Hanna