Thursday, February 17, 2011

Celebrating (and Dealing with) Children's Art

When your child is a prolific artist, your home can soon be overwhelmed by piles and mounds of sketches and paintings and sculptures and projects that he or she produces.

Most children enjoy the process of art and will continue producing because they are immersed in the "doing" and not necessarily the "perfecting" (although this varies from child to child).

And most of what a child produces feels, to him or her, like an extension of him/herself. These works of art are precious and meaningful and often difficult to let go of.

I don't think there is ever a foolproof method of balancing your needs for tidiness with a child's need to keep and protect her creations (if there is, please tell me because I don't have it figured out), but here are a few things that have worked for us:

Make Your Home an Art Gallery

If you go to an art store (such as Opus), you'll notice that they have a good selection frames (including glass) available that aren't too expensive. Buy several of different sizes (based on the size of paper your child usually uses) and find a wall in your home upon which to create your child's gallery. You can buy pre-cut framing mats if you want but it's not necessary (although it does add a "professional" feeling to the framing).

This "gallery" doesn't have to be built in a day! You can add pieces slowly over time and you can also switch out pieces, like a real gallery, based on decisions you and your child curator make together. There are special frames available that make it easy to do just that.

You can also create ribbon or string or curtain rod (won't sag) galleries by stretching them across a wall expanse and clipping children's art to them. As per this photo. Or you can get even more creative by using things like tree branches artfully displayed, as in this photo.

Some parents archive their children's work by taking digital photos of pieces and then displaying the art in a photo album. Blurb is a great place to do this or if you have a Mac, you can do it through iPhoto.

Of course, the fridge door always makes a wonderful temporary gallery space, although it's always a bit risky as to whether or not the piece will survive being exposed to a busy kitchen.

I also have a bulletin board designated for my son's use only. He can put little works of art and projects up there that may not work in a frame or hanging from a string. He has full curator control of this mini-gallery and he likes it that way.

Displaying your children's art sends a really important message to them about how much we value what they do. If a child is uncomfortable with having something displayed, don't insist (even if you love it). Just preserve it and try again when they are older or in a different space about their art.

More good ideas for displaying art can be found here.

Use a Sketchbook for "Everyday" Drawing

Sketchbooks are self-contained portfolios of drawing material. Younger children may go through a sketchbook very quickly while they enjoy putting their mark on the world. Older children may savour the drawing experience and the sketchbook will last longer. What's great about sketchbooks is that they are easy to store and the decision about what to do with them can be left up to your child when he or she is much older.

Purchase a Portfolio

For larger or favourite pieces, having a portfolio is a great way to keep completed art safe and tidy. They do take up space, but fit nicely into the back of a closet or beside a shelving unit.

Use a Storage Bin

I keep a large file storage bin in my office closet for anything my son makes during the week. This includes writing, drawing, paper craft, etc. At least once a week, with his knowledge and blessing, I help tidy up his workspace and put the pile in this bin (which also has hanging folders). Things that may not fit go up on the top shelf if he's finished with it for now. This keeps the paper "drift" from happening too badly and also gives him a place to find things when he wants to revisit something.

Waiting and Sorting

Once a year (or more often, depending on how much he's produced) we go through the portfolio and storage bin, culling the truly meaningful things from the "I don't care so much" things. A few months makes a tremendous difference in terms of his attachment and he's much more objective. Hm. Sounds a bit like me!

What's left goes to a special location in our storage room and when he's teen or a young adult, he can keep anything he may want and get rid of the rest. Or throw it all out. It's his decision.

(Although I'm personally not much of a "pack rat", I must confess that I have a few "special" art projects left over from my childhood that my mom kept and I haven't yet thrown out.)

On Throwing Things Out

One thing I always like to keep in mind, especially as my parents are now in their 80s, is that one day, my son may be involved in deciding what I can keep and what I have to let go of. I guess the Golden Rule is what first pops into my head: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, put slightly differently: Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you.

As I'm not a pack rat and I'm great at culling my own belongings, I do have to take extreme care that I don't force my son to release things he's not yet ready to release. That includes his art.

I stumbled on this New York Times article a couple of days ago while I was researching gallery ideas.

Mom, You're One Tough Art Critic

I don't agree with everything in the article as there seems to be a cavalier and controlling attitude towards children's art that pokes through and that does bother me. As does the sense that children's art is an inconvenience for parents (especially if glitter is involved). But it was still interesting to read through and figure out where I stood on the issue, especially in light of how other parents respond to their kids' art.

This stood out: "When Dad de-accessions a new finger painting overnight, Dr. Burton said, 'the child quickly learns that this art that they’re making is very ephemeral.' In other words, worthless."

I'd love to hear what you think about it.