I Throw Away My Son’s Artwork…Don’t You?
Thursday, March 22, 2018
When my husband attended an exhibition in Japan earlier this year, he discovered an artist who had developed an exhibition out of his childhood artworks, which his parents had collected over the years.
The husband immediately texted, excited at the thought that our progeny could one day be a celebrated artist and his finger paintings could fetch Jackson Pollock prices.
I texted back, “Fantastic idea!” and experienced a split second of guilt over the fact that I had thrown away what could have potentially been valuable masterpieces.
Before you become a parent, you imagine a house filled with lovingly curated crayon drawings and tasteful potato stamping. You will have a feature wall with artful scribbles that bear the hallmarks of a genius.
Then your child is born, attends preschool and you are subjected to the tyranny of toddler art.
They bring them home in thick manila folders. Each bears their name and a description, like “Scribbling activity, independent work.”
Before long, the artworks pile up. Some are not terribly distinctive, while others hint at some measure of learning taking place, such as the ability to colour a carrot orange or to paste stars in a clump.
Undeniably, all of them point to one characteristic in my child: he has bucketloads of enthusiasm and absolutely no patience. He colours furiously with the initial strokes, but stops as abruptly as he began.
When they reach the age of two, they move on to making crafts. I’ve come to expect them during the festive periods or celebrations, such as Chinese New Year or Mother’s Day.
They’re adorable. They’re also bulky objects that cannot be folded up and stored neatly, so they sit awkwardly in whatever corner of the house my son throws them into the moment he gets home.
It’s also obvious that his artistic involvement in these works of craft is, at best, minimal. His participation extends to splooging a few blobs of paint on the paper. Everything else is done by his teachers: the thoughtful conceptualisation, cutting, pasting, stringing and shaping.
That’s why, the first time I threw my son’s artwork into the bin, I was wracked with guilt. Partly because of my son, but also mostly because of his teachers’ efforts. I know that the teachers want to show parents that their children are doing something worthwhile in preschool.
After an entire day of running after screaming children, the last thing I would want to do is to make sense of their art and crafts, which will be presented to the proud parents as the “children’s work”. But that’s what preschool teachers do, and for that, they should be bestowed sainthood.
So why, then, do I consign the fruits of their labour into the recycling bin? The simple answer is that it is either his artwork or his toys. The house is overwhelmed with his stuff. I cannot walk five steps without tripping over a toy, and I’ve not seen the surface of my coffee table or dining table for a long time.
It’s not that I don’t recognise my child’s milestones. I do, and I’m immensely proud to see him experimenting, exploring and learning – which he has many more opportunities to do at preschool than he would at home with busy, working parents.
So I hang on to the artworks that made me smile when I saw them, such as:
The one-eyed peacock, because it has character.
A brown paper bag-cum-astronaut’s helmet from space camp, which I threw away after he hadn’t touched it for months and had to retrieve from the bin when he asked for it the very next day.
A sun model with rainbow-coloured crepe streamers that greets us when we come downstairs every morning.
A toilet paper roll with a smiley face and Rasta hair, just because.
And this, which I prop up by the window to frighten away would-be burglars.
There will be more to come. As much as the idea of preserving our child’s artistic endeavours appeals to the husband’s hoarding tendencies, I have to be practical.
After all, I need to set aside space for the essays that he will one day bring home from school. I’m pretty sure that’s where his true genius will be revealed.