The Art of Tossing Children’s Artwork
"Art is never finished, only abandoned." ~ Leonardo da Vinci
I’ve been in a purging mode this past year. Accumulating stuff is easy – you just tuck more into corners, closets, boxes and rafters, and voila – instant room for new stuff! We all love our stuff, and we spend an inordinate amount of time collecting more stuff – not just for the purpose of adding, but because we are like the four year old on the playground, perfectly happy digging with his shovel, until he sees another kid with a bucket. He grabs for the bucket, only to want the dump truck, followed by the rake, the boat, the tricycle, bike, ipod, laptop, multimedia system, etc.
So purging is good. But it takes a lot more thought energy, because the goal isn’t to get rid of everything, leaving you back at having nothing. The trick is to discern which of your stuff has meaning and value to you. Adding doesn’t require that.
So each week, I spend time in my closets and drawers winnowing out clothing neither the kids nor I wear any longer, deciding which items I can donate, sell on Craigslist or toss. It’s a good feeling, but a long term project – not nearly as much fun as buying new stuff!
That’s all fine and good until I came across boxes of artwork collected from my kids, particularly preschool through early grade school. My daughter, in particular, was a prolific artist. Every day she’d come home from school with at least four or five pieces of artwork, and then we’d pull out the construction paper to cut and paste and draw some more. I must have had hundreds of stick figure drawings with ear to ear smiles beside the words, “I love you, Daddy.”
Over a decade ago, when I was first out on my own, I let the kids tape their drawings to the wall of the dining room. Each posted picture motivated them to create more, til the walls were filled with their artwork … and it was time for me to move!
Even my son’s little chicken-scratched drawings, with repetitive little smiley-faces evoke memories of sitting around the table crafting art; he mimicking his sister’s artistic proliferations.
Most people I know are at one extreme or the other. Either they keep every tiny little keepsake (which they usually try to pawn off on their grown kids once they move out – and seriously, are we interested in tinker toys and clay casts of our 4-year-old hands when we’re 30?), or they constantly purge everything in an effort to keep down the clutter. For those in the latter category, I can see their point – we really don’t need as much as we think we do. The problem is that while memories are in the head, they need an access point – something that triggers them. Otherwise, they stay lost, tucked into one of thousands of hiding places in the brain, unaccessed unless they are triggered by some similar event or a random thought bubble pops out into play. So, the process of determining what to keep and what to toss isn’t simple.
I think I tend toward the “over-keeper” category. So, I work through the boxes of artistic gems separating out the truly special from the glued-on macaroni art on construction paper (sorry, Kraft!) I figure if I can fill even one box of paper waste, that’s one less box of stuff I need to move the next time.
Of course, when I’m going through item by item of creative splendor with thoughts of skewering the kabob of clutter, I can only imagine what Picasso’s parents thought of his artwork when little Pablo was a child. Or Chagall. Or Botticelli. It’s not like a parent is very objective. I see Mrs. Picasso looking at his scribblings and though she loves the heck out of them, is running out of room in the attic of her villa, so she uses it to stoke the stove. What would those works be worth now? I go to galleries these days where famous artist chicken-scratch sells for hundreds of thousands (ie, “look, here’s a napkin on which Rembrandt blew his nose!”)
How can one be truly objective in deciding which items of juvenile artistry to preserve for the future? You should ask yourself:
- Who are you keeping this item for? What is your intent? Are you holding it because you don't want to make a decision? Are you holding it because you think your child may want it later (hint: grown kids don't want very much of this stuff-just enough to show you cared)? ... or
- Are you holding onto it because this one piece in your hand represents something beautiful and meaningful, a memory of a simple, blissful moment, watching colors and shapes be transformed by an adoring little child, who then holds it up to you, beaming with pride?
Something tells me the reason Mrs. Picasso may regret stoking the stove with baby Pablo art wouldn't be because of the monetary value of that art, but because of something intrinsically more valuable, something perhaps only she may understand.
And evoking that magical, inexplicable sense of meaning is what true art is all about.
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"At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important." ~ M.C. Escher
"To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams." ~ Giorgio de Chirico