Monday, January 31, 2011

Art or not

Being a parent is challenging enough without making issues where they don't need to be any. Last week in the Times the topic was how to dispose of the volume of works on paper kids generate—too much to save, so what do you do? 

Really, this was one of my last concerns as a parent. I can only guess that writers on parenting have run out of topics—or, parents are over-involved and over-identifying with their children to the point that they assume their little ones must feel possessive about their "art" in the same way adults might.

My observation of children is that they’re much more interested in the process than the product. When my sons were small the house was awash in drawings, and when it got to be too much, I simply saved the ones that meant something to me (some of which I still have) and tossed the rest. If they’d cared, I would have instituted a regular time when we sat down together and decided—on the basis of “interesting” rather than “good”—what was to be kept. I would not have thrown away anything they really wanted, even secretly. However I can assure you it would not have been an issue. 

Parents often ask me how they can encourage their children's artistic abilities, and appear disappointed when I suggest that, outside of providing them with materials and unstructured time alone, they do no such thing. Children don't need encouragement; they are by nature obsessive, creative beings. Why turn something they love to do for themselves into an opportunity for praise and approval? It's only when it becomes drummed into them that the activity (as opposed to, say, building a Lego© tower, or a sand castle that gets washed away) has something to do with their self-worth, that they begin to consider the end product—to the point that by age 10 or so, they’re so self-conscious most give up drawing up altogether.

When I was a child, I didn't care if my parents saw what I did —in fact it would have been ruined for me if they had. That it was private, completely mine, made it special.

Now that I think of it, drawing was always in my life—and the same for my children. My father, an engineer with an artistic bent, drew for pleasure and my children’s father could usually be found, of an evening, penciling designs for futuristic cars. Drawing was a pastime, nothing to be fussed over, just something people did, like reading the newspaper

I know two people who grew up with parents of wildly different attitudes when it came to their children's output:

Artist Marilyn Minter’s mother not only didn’t keep the things she did as a child, she discouraged Marilyn from drawing altogether (see the story in the Times).

Then there’s Erica, whose parents allowed her to save everything she touched—EVERYTHING, no exaggeration. Not just art, but all of her written papers, tests, party invitations, and myriad keepsakes, such as her 8th grade boy friend’s football jersey, were stashed away in their Great Neck home until just two years ago when, at 32, Erica, a documentary filmmaker, began dismantling, disposing, and documenting, what she refers to as the Erica Spizz Archives and Presidential Library (I was gifted with an invite to her Sweet Sixteen). It’s still an ongoing project.

Anyway, from what I can tell, both Marilyn and Erica have turned out just fine.

Published with permission from the Erica Spizz Archives and Presidential Library.


Nancy Ewart said...

To keep or not to keep, that is the question. Whether it is better to be buried in your kid's stuff or not... my attempt at a Shakespearean parody just came to a grinding halt. But I wondered if the NY Times was having a slow day. Surely, it's love that matters, not paper, with or without art. My mother told me that she never thought I had any artistic ability because I never colored within the lines. I still don't but I turned out OK.

Anonymous said...

"unstructured time alone"? that's dangerous talk.

lucy mink-Covello said...

i have a safe inviting art studio, my kids go in their, do their thing, sometimes they show me what they did, sometimes they don't. I think if you provide the space and materials and comfort you will be surprised and amazed at their creative minds at work. also don't worry about messes.