My daughter was a prolific artist at kindergarten. Every day I'd retrieve works in all sorts of mediums. Needless to say, some were more visually appealing than others. If something was extremely, er, challenging, I'd say, "That one is so good. Let's hang it up in the garage." Others made it into the house. Some I even had framed. No less than five of her preschool pieces still adorn the walls of my office.
One of them was scribble. But, hey, it was her scribble.
Yet at some stage I imagine parents need to dial down the effusive praise and cast a realistic eye over these artistic endeavours. I actually think it's a relief once we admit we're not suited to certain things. It frees us to pursue activities that we do have a knack for.
This at least is the theory I've held dear since unintentionally letting my ten-year-old know she's unlikely to be New Zealand's next big artist. She was carefully sketching at the kitchen table one day when I leaned over her shoulder to see what was demanding such painstaking attention. "You're really good at drawing aliens," I said, encouragingly. "That's not an alien. It's me," she wailed. "I knew that. I was joking," I lied.
What's another untruth in the scheme of things? Hammering had been one of her favourite activities at kindergarten. Most days I'd have to cart home a block of wood bearing a single Heineken cap held by a nail. "That's amazing. Such workmanship.
Straight to the trophy room, I mean: garage," I'd say, wondering how many such masterpieces one mother needed.
Now, if I sound cruel, ungrateful and child-unfriendly then let it be noted that in comparison to the author of 'Tis the season to scrap your children's cards my attitude to rudimentary art is fairly innocuous. This writer mercilessly critiques "the dreadful daubs of budding artists", accusing one child of having no sense of proportion and then dismissing the efforts of a five-year-old.
Her particular gripe is about receiving child-designed "school charity Christmas card[s]" which must be all the rage in England. It's certainly a smart (possibly even cynical) fundraising ploy. As one parent interviewed for The Telegraph article said: "[A]ll children do pictures for the cards, regardless of whether you want to pay for a box of them or not.
You can't exactly inspect their picture and then say, 'Um, actually no, we're not going to pay for this'."
At our Auckland school we have the chance to purchase calendars with the header art being a work our child created specifically for this purpose. I always order a few but only for the grandparents. I can't imagine anyone else would have much interest. Mind you, I've just scrutinised my daughter's calendar art for 2014 and it's really good. Taking inspiration from the natural world and featuring stylised flowers, a fern and a bumblebee in flight, it marries uncompromising outlines with strong colour and possesses a compositional balance that belies the youth of the artist. I'm not just saying that because of the alien incident, either.
And, anyway, my daughter knows how much we value her art. One year we attended an auction at Highwic historic house where parents had to bid for their child's work. Of course, other parents made a sport of artificially forcing up the prices so no one took home a bargain that evening. We paid $75 for the privilege of acquiring a small mounted photograph our girl had taken on a field trip to Highwic. It still has pride of place in our kitchen and serves as a reminder of the ingenious ways in which schools harness the creativity of students in order to prise cash out of their parents.
What's your view on children's art? Should it be used for fundraising purposes? Or should parents reasonably expect to have free access to whatever their child creates?