Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Staying An Artist

This post may strike you as self-indulgent, because I'm going to write about my son and the art he makes. But bear with me for a minute, because it's also about your child, and the art that s/he makes, too. Above is a photo of my four year old, getting ready to go on a road trip to Scotland with his dad. His suitcase is packed, but not with clothes or a toothbrush. That's his art suitcase, and like a true artist, he needs it on hand at all times. 

Picasso once famously quipped, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Like plenty of other kids, Michael loves to create. But even more than my other two boys, who also enjoy drawing and making, art is Michael's preferred activity. If I had to categorize his practice, I'd call him an assemblage artist. He likes to cobble together found materials, ones not necessarily found in our art cupboard, and create very interesting things. Here is a sampling:
 Above: pheasant feathers, paper towels and tape.
 Above: paper towels, paper, lemon, bubble container and green play doh in water.
 Above: Paper napkin, duct tape, masking tape, birthday candles and cupcake toppers.
Above, cow parsley stems, washi tape and ziplock bags.

He also practices more traditional drawing and sculpting, as seen below:
 Above: play doh apples
 Above: marker on paper
Above: ink on paper
And my favorite to date...
...charcoal, marker, paint and felt on paper.

Michael is fairly prolific, though his output seems to come in explosive bursts. I frequently stumble upon his sculptures in the most inconvenient of places (the middle of the kitchen floor just as I'm about to make dinner, in the bathtub before I want to take a shower), or find him using materials I'd rather he not play with (egg yolks, light bulbs). But over time I have tried to reflect upon and address Picasso's "problem" of how a child can remain an artist by being a helpful facilitator for Michael's creations. I prefer a tidy house, but I'm learning to live with the detritus of my kids' creative messes. I like to keep their "art" supplies in one place, but am realizing (I'm a little slow) the correlation between clear access and creative expression. Maybe it's precisely because the markers are kept in a box in a cupboard (accessible, but out of sight), while the eggs are kept on the kitchen counter in plain view, that Michael chooses the materials he does. Either way, today I'm trying to encourage his exploratory creations, rather than squash them with very unnecessary rules and boundaries about what is acceptable when it comes to making art. It was Van Gogh who said "If you hear a voice within you say 'You cannot paint', then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." To help a child remain an artist, I would amend that statement to read "If you hear your mother's voice telling you not to tape the door shut with an entire roll of scotch tape, then by all means tape the door shut with an entire roll of scotch tape, and your mother's voice will be silenced."


  1. I just have to comment because my 4 year old son makes very similar constructions as your son's water -lemon-paper towel one. And i never considered it art, it fell into my mental category of science experiment. I met you once, apparently on the day you made bean bags when your boys were sick. I was one of the people that stopped by to have a look, I think. Later, I quite accidentally found your beanbag instructions, realized the connection, and bookmarked that page and asked my mom to make my son some beanbags. Somehow ours turned out double the length! I was sad to see you were leaving town, but as I have been browsing around the last year of your blog, I am blown away by the beauty of where you live. Congratulations!

    1. Hi Amanda, What a small world that you found my blog in the way that you did, and that our paths crossed that day in Brooklyn on my front stoop during our bean bag toss! Thanks for your comment. My kids also love to do "science experiments", and to me art and science most certainly intersect, especially that this young age. (See my post from Dec. 2012 http://craftingabeautifullife.blogspot.co.uk/2012_12_01_archive.html) Hope all is well in Brooklyn, which I still miss sometimes, though you're right-it's pretty beautiful here! Lesliexx