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?