Bad Art?


Two years ago around this time, I wrote a post about our annual Mother’s Day paver project. Each year, Amelia and I paint paving stones together which conveniently cover a muddy spot in the yard. Most years some combination of grandparents visit around Mother’s Day, so they paint pavers too. Last year I noted that these annual projects illustrate the way Amelia’s interests and artistic styles have developed. This year, we have something new:


That’s right. And it is harsh. Amelia and my mother were painting pavers together, and for the first time, Amelia was obviously comparing their work and felt she was coming up short. In fact, she HATED her paver and wanted to start over. She didn’t even want it added to the walkway.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  This year Amelia has become very interested in drawing and painting real things – flowers, people, animals – and she felt that her rainbows and flowers were inadequate beside her grandmother’s intricate garden. We reassured Amelia that her paver was beautiful, that she was using brilliant colors and bold strokes, etc. etc. But was it true? Is everything everyone makes equally beautiful? When is it ok to acknowledge that everything you make isn’t your best work?

I told her it didn’t matter how the paver turned out, the purpose of this project was to have fun together, and that wasn’t happening. So we stopped, washed our hands, and did something else. A few days later, Amelia started again with a fresh paver. And sure enough, she painted flowers that looked surprisingly similar to my mother’s. It was more fun and tantrum-free, but she was still thinking about someone else’s work and how she measured up.

Last week I attended a conference and the keynote speaker, Tom Kelley, talked about creative confidence. He mentioned that a room full of kindergarten students typically all enthusiastically identify themselves as artists. In first grade, there is less enthusiasm but still a lot of artists. But by 5th grade, very few students self-identify as artists. What happens to the artists? Are we focusing so much on the “quality” of the product or the score on the final exam that we squeeze the joy out of the process? Does the product really matter?

What’s happening with the artists in your house?

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