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Everyone’s a Critic: Choosing Whether to Dump Your Child’s Artwork

Everyone’s a Critic: Choosing Whether to Dump Your Child’s Artwork

Sometimes it is exhibited on the refrigerator. Sometimes it is even framed. Sometimes it is filed away, or sent off to a lonely relative, and sometimes it is just quietly and stealthily disposed of. What I am talking about is children’s artwork. To be more exact, your children’s artwork. From about the age of two, children discover the power and catharsis of art, and they meet this newfound expression with prolific enthusiasm. What starts out as a few finger paintings or egg-carton caterpillars quickly turns into enough paper, paint and glue to create a sizable fire hazard in your home.

When I found my wife deaccessioning a few cubic tons of our son’s drawings, paintings and multi-media art projects, I was somewhat horrified. While not all of them were exceptional, disposing of, what seemed like, more than half of his output felt severe and maybe a little wrong. But seemingly, most parents weed through and thin out the collection of their child’s masterpieces. A New York Times article ran on the subject last week (“Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic“) discussing this very subject and came to the same conclusion that certain sacrifices need to be made for the greater good. As the author of the piece illustrates every parent’s frustration with the comment, ” Forget about organizing the pieces in a storage bin. This is a job for a shipping container.”

I know some parents who methodically scan their children’s artwork and file it away on a hard drive (but the tactile nature of this work is sadly lost), while others opt for flat files or cardboard tubing. But most seem to tackle the job like a mercenary, with the least amount of sentimentality. But really, how can we (parents, care givers, relatives) be so crass and pragmatic as to ritually dump, recycle, or toss what could be valuable links to our child’s fleeting and developing identity. Drawing, as discussed in the aforementioned New York Times piece, helps build cognitive and fine motor skills. And it teaches children to observe and discriminate when it comes to color, shape and form. Young children can sometimes draw emotions that go beyond their words. But most children are relatively unsentimental about these works. While no child would be happy to throw away these works, for them it is more about the process than the product.

Every family is different; as well as every child is different. So there is no right or wrong approach to the subject. But for me, being somewhat sentimental and holding the romantic notion that these works are brief glimpses into a child’s mind and identity, I feel you should save what you can. Not everything, but enough to provide a chronicle or illustration of your child’s consciousness.

How do you contend with the avalanche of artwork? Do you discriminate? Do you dispose? If so, what makes the cut and why? Do you have a system for storage? And if you do save these works, why do you feel it is important, for you or them?

Read more: Children, Crafts & Design, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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2:18AM PST on Jan 25, 2012

Thanks for the article

12:38PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

I don't know if I could throw away any of my son's masterpieces! Gifting them is a great idea :)

7:37AM PDT on Mar 28, 2011

I like the recycling idea - thank you cards, note cards, invitations, etc.

9:07PM PST on Mar 11, 2011

We recycle them into invitations, thank you notes, wrapping present and the like!

2:49AM PST on Feb 15, 2011

Encourage them to sort through it and make choices about the ones to keep. This will teach them to be critical about their efforts, and they will feel proud to have a collection that they love!!

8:44PM PST on Feb 12, 2011

It is their creativity :0 keep it all if you can :-)

7:52AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

I must say that I rarely throw my kids' works of art away... I just can't. It would seem to me like throwing away some precious artifacts. So I exhibit some for years on my kitchen's walls, or keep them piled up in a cupboard. And I'm glad I did so because kids are growing up so fast and once in awhile, they now enjoy leafing through their old paintings or drawings.

2:14AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

What helps is to have scrap books to put them in, or in some big tub. You can get one of those that fits under the bed. As they become too cluttered on the fridge, store them away. When your child gets married, it's kind of cool to give back the memories... Another thing, is they make excellent gifts to the grandparents.

5:18PM PST on Feb 10, 2011

I threw some things away that i regret now simply because i was trying to reduce being a pack-rat....oh, the pain...i know a person who cuts out images on cards given to her and the words written on it and paste them into a scrapbook...that is one way to keep track of cards...perhaps children's art work can be compiled into a binder for each year and stored on the bookshelf as part of the family's don't have a library...why not start today :) It doesn't have to be huge... start out small...

6:11AM PST on Feb 9, 2011

One of my older sister has a 5 year old son and I must admit she and her husband are not very huge into anything art. My nephew would occasionally bring back home artworks and it would get displayed on the refrigerator, but when it gets too cluttered, his parents end up just dumping them in the trash without really thinking about it. They would ask my nephew if it's okay to throw them away and I just felt like he still doesn't really understand how meaningful some of his art could be if he gets the chance to look at them when he's a little older. But then again, being raised in a non-artistic household, he may end up not really caring about it anyway. But I just find it really sad because I personally find art to be liberating (I'm an abstract artist) and really teaches one to think and be creative instead of being confined to a rigid set of thought pattern.

If I were to have my own kids someday, I would definitely keep majority of my children's art. Again, I know that every parent is different. I would find a way to organize the kids' arts, even be it in a collage or some sort, which would allow for easier storage and not take up too much space.

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