November 14, 2012

Art History



My mother is a talented artist, she has the skill to draw on request. As a child I would take a brown bag lunch to school and each day she would sketch a fresh illustration with a heavy black marker on the bag. I would make my demands from my bed, still groggy with sleep; a camel, a horse drawn chariot, a gypsy woman. Sometimes she would struggle, a bear standing on his hind legs took several rejected bags before she finally pulled it off. There were even days when I was late to school because the drawing was taking too long. She'd eye the clock, frantically trying to save a hopeless effort and then just as she was about to give up and let me head out with the lackluster bag, she'd snatch it back and say 'no that looks like dog doo-doo... we just can't', crumple it up and start again. I so wish I had saved those daily drawings, instead they were covered in sandwich grease and discarded.


My own interest in art developed early. My mother encouraged me and treasured everything that I produced, but she could also be critical. In preschool I presented her with a drawing- a group of people, standing side by side like soldiers. She pinned it to the wall and praised several details, then she paused and added, 'but generally when people stand around, they don't hold their arms straight out like this, they drop them to their sides. Next time give that a try.'

That story is not one of my mother's favorites. She thinks that I am painting her as overly critical, but that isn't really what I take away from it. I did start to draw people with their arms down at their sides, and I also started to really look at and observe what I was drawing. Sometimes I wonder whether any skill that I might have comes from that early exposure and feed-back, or whether it is some gene that that was magically passed down.


I do like to think that I share some of her ability, but we also have a very different eye. I am not an ace at Pictionary, ask me to draw a horse and I can't visualize what one looks like... sit me in front of a horse and I could probably sketch it with more accuracy than my mother, of course hers would make a better children's illustration. I see in shape and shadow and she thinks in lines. If the artistic eye is a gene, it was passed on but the inheritance wasn't linear.

I can already see a creative force in Little Smith. When he is working on a project he is so focused and thoughtful. I am watching with curiosity to see how his talents take shape, giving him access to crayons and blocks and clay, but trying not to influence how he plays with them. He is still too small to really understand anyway, but I do think about how and when constructive criticism might help to drive a little person rather than defeat him. The current thinking with parenting seems to be unbridled praise for every effort. I see the value in that unconditional support, but I also believe that honest evaluation helped me to observe the world more keenly as early as four years old. 


It seems tricky, but I am sure that when the time arrives, it will all come more naturally than my theoretical imaginings... or perhaps his pop will get his way and Little Smith will buck the artistic lineage and end up a professional snowboarder. The poor kid isn't even two yet and we've got big dreams. Of course we truly just want him to be happy. A happy artist/ professional snowboarder!

16 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree more with your sentence "The current thinking with parenting seems to be unbridled praise for every effort. I see the value in that unconditional support, but I also believe that honest evaluation helped me to observe the world more keenly as early as four years old."

    Great parenting tips. And Ur little boy is gonna be a creative young man ;)

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  2. What a beautifully written tribute to art-- and parenting. I also agree that "unbridled praise" isn't all that its cracked up to be. Life isn't like that-- and isn't that the largest part of our jobs as parents, preparing our children for what is out in the world? As an educator, I've run in to a lot of adult-children who have been raised to believe they are perfect, their opinions are perfect, and their ideas are perfect and the rest of the world is in denial of their perfection-- honestly, its a big problem. Encouraging your child to try harder & to learn from mistakes {rather than denying they make any}, showing your child how and where they can improve in a nurturing way-- all of these things are the hallmarks of good parenting. Little Smith is in good hands, no fear.

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  3. I really enjoyed this post, thanks! I love the photos of little smith through the block structure. I don't know if you're familiar with the book Nurtureshock by Bronson/Merriman but if not then I would highly recommend it. A few of the chapters are really paradigm-shifting and the first chapter is about the potential negative effects of ubiquitous praise. Definitely an enjoyable and eye-opening read with lots of scientific studies that describe the negative effect on effort and self-esteem.

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    1. Thanks very much Kris, I'm not familiar with the book but it does sound fascinating and I look forward to checking it out!

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  4. What a great post! I chuckled when you said you were late to school a few times due to your mother. I think that is something I could easily do to my son. :) You will know what is best for your son. I don't think there really is any right or wrong way to parenting, and we all have our inputs on who should do what and how. I try to rely on gut feelings, but I'm human and make mistakes. I guess trying to find balance in all things will be a continual challenge in this lifetime.

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  5. Your mother always sounds so wonderful in so many ways. You describe the daily ritual of lunch bag drawings so well that I can just imagine it all as it's happening. E and I are both artistic as well, with us meeting due to his working in the art department where my friends were studying photography and I often wonder what artistic talents Izzy will have. Here's hoping W will be gliding down the snow on his own custom designed and illustrated snowboard before too long. ;)

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    1. Ooh a snowboard designer... that would be cool! :)

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  6. I love to see kids exploring their creativity, instead of watching TV! My kids are both talented at drawing (says their mom) but my son tends more toward video game watching nowadays. How kind and patient of your mom to do those lunch drawings. I have enough trouble packing the food!

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  7. This is a great post. I even think the story about your mom giving a critical eye to your drawing is lovely. She did praise you, and THEN let you know what could be done better. If that is not a mama's job, then what?? Great pictures, and is it just me, or are they bigger?

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    1. Thank you and very observant! Yes I shuffled things around and made the pictures bigger last week, but this is the first post since the switch with a vertical picture and you really do notice the difference with those.

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  8. Such a thought-provoking post! I love this glimpse into your childhood, and it raises so many feelings for me, too. I grew up in a house of two artists (my father was a photographer, and my mother dropped out of art school b/c it was too expensive in the 70's) and I thoroughly remember careful critique of my work. But I think it truly made me better and to look more closely!

    I'll bet it's no different in a household of a parent who was a great athlete and is harder on his/her kid's technique there. And what's funny is, Milo has a little friend whose parents are both lawyers, and I swear, whenever that kid comes over to our house he is trying to bend the rules and argue just a little too much for my comfort! But... they value a questioning environment in their household, so I try not to get too flustered by their five-year-old!

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    1. I didn't realize your mother was also an artist! We have a lot in common. That's too funny about the mini litigator too, it's amazing how much we pass on even when our kids are still so small.

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  9. Such lovely little stories and anecdotes in this post, and you've given me something to think about as well.
    Ronnie xo

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  10. I certainly so no good reason that he couldn't do both! The sky is the limit. You're doing all the right things, and it's so cool to watch kids' real interests and personalities unfold. I so love that story about your mom! Sounds like she is a really fun person.

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  11. Well, there is some serious building going on there. Really, I love those blocks and actually thinking to buy some for my home, just for fun: to wake a kid in every one of us... :)

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  12. This was such a cool story to read. Both of my parents were crafty, but not in drawing. My dad builds things. He built the house I grew up in. My mom is great at sewing and baking and figuring out any kind of crafty project. It's cool to think about how your own parents' talents influenced your own.

    I like your thoughts on providing constructive criticism. We do that with Julian (8). Wade calls it the "sandwich technique" He'll say one thing Julian does really well, tell him something he could work on improving, and then finish it off with another compliment. Praise is wonderful for kids, but honest feedback of areas that could use improvement is important too.

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