The point of life isn’t to prolong youth, but to have grown up.
September 16, 2018 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Why you should throw your children's art away. Mary Townsend writes: If it’s the act of making the art that’s useful and good for children, then let this part of the art live, and then let its results die. Like its aesthetic quality, the output of children’s artistic efforts is incomplete. Throwing it away actually does everyone a favor. It completes the artistic life-cycle, allowing ephemera to be just that: actually ephemeral.
posted by Cash4Lead (104 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Why you should throw your children's art away

Because otherwise it will reach the ceiling and you will asphyxiate.

Seriously, my daughter draws approximately 6 8.5x11 pictures of smiling cats and ballerinas per day. Sometimes the ballerinas are dancing on top of the cats. These cats are lions.
posted by selfnoise at 5:57 PM on September 16, 2018 [97 favorites]

@selfnoise, yah, no kidding, I find it insane that someone keeps it. The trick is getting rid of it without undue drama. "That drawing was very special to me!"
posted by Bovine Love at 6:09 PM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Everything is ephemeral, including us. There's no need to rush.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:12 PM on September 16, 2018 [76 favorites]

I always take a picture of each piece of art before throwing it away. The really good stuff goes on the walls or in a large artist's portfolio that conveniently slides behind a shelf. She was pretty good at composition and balance even when she was five and I admired the way she could fill up a piece of paper. Most of my favorite pictures feature at least one chicken saying "boc". Still, 95% goes in the trash after being photographed and she's been pretty chill about it.
posted by Alison at 6:13 PM on September 16, 2018 [36 favorites]

This reminds me of this box at my parents' house with some old coloring worksheets from kindergarten. They were colored in with haphazard monochromatic blobs, and the teacher wrote "color more nicely" or something on them. 5 year old _cave didn't give a shit about coloring that piece of paper nicely and I still don't 29 years later. But we have it for some reason. Now that I have my own daughter I guess it'll be time to experiment with the other side of misplaced nostalgia
posted by _cave at 6:15 PM on September 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

When I was a young adult I had no time for the ephemera of my youth. I threw away my fair share of realia, and my parents disposed of most of the rest.

Now I'm middle-aged, and I ache at the memory of the things I've lost. I wish my parents had been more far-sighted and had archived at least a representative sample of my childhood.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:15 PM on September 16, 2018 [63 favorites]

I have one medium sized plastic storage box for my kid's memory stuffs. He actually sucks at art (he'd be the first to tell you, and he's got some subclinical fine motor delay) so I have absolutely no problem throwing his scribbles away. Every now and then I toss one into the box if it's some sort of milestone (the first time he drew something representational was reeeeally late in the game but I kept it because I really thought he was going to skip stick figures and cartoons entirely and go straight to Jackson Pollock forever). Kids who have even a normal level of liking to draw draw A LOT. I can't imagine saving it all.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:24 PM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

OMG my kids go through so much paper. We have to periodically decimate their accumulated works or be buried.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 6:26 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have two or three childhood works (illustrated newspaper) hand drawn by my grandfather, born 1889. He later became an architect. I'm very pleased to have them.
posted by BWA at 6:27 PM on September 16, 2018 [40 favorites]

I'm looking forward to the continuation of the series. Specifically Training Your Child To Run With Scissors, How To Tell Your Kids Their Stuffed Animals Are Dumb, and Of Course Santa Isn't Real Don't Be An Idiot.
posted by glonous keming at 6:28 PM on September 16, 2018 [100 favorites]

Saving every drawing/note/clay sculpture/cardboard project is madness.

Setting aside a couple of especially creative ones every year is fine.

(Personally, I'm saving every single item mine create. In heavy boxes. In the basement. I want them to have something to remember me when they clean out the house after I'm gone...)
posted by madajb at 6:28 PM on September 16, 2018 [19 favorites]

I am not a parent, but I do think that parents should require their children to write an artist statement before displaying their work. Nothing too theoretical, it would be embarrassing if your kindergartener were the only one still quoting Deleuze or interrogating and juxtaposing.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:45 PM on September 16, 2018 [121 favorites]

When I was 9 or 10, I wrote a long, detailed but objectively bad poem and printed it out. When I was 16 I visited my dad at work, and was shocked and embarrassed to see it stuck up on his office wall next to his computer. I'm now 39, visited my dad's house a few months ago, and was stunned to see that same faded printout of my poem stuck up on the desk in his study.

But yeah, our kids artworks get a few weeks on the fridge, then they go into a folder, the folders go into a box in the shed, and once a year or so I go out and triage that stuff.
posted by Jimbob at 6:51 PM on September 16, 2018 [14 favorites]

When I was a kid I made my mom an ornament out of a bar of Irish Spring soap. I carved out the middle and rounded the edges and put a hook in it. It hung on the tree for maybe one or two Christmases and then disappeared. For years, every Christmas, I would ask my mom where the soap ornament I made her was. Finally, at age 38, I made her another one. It was extremely unspecial and not something I would want to hang on my (or anyone else's) tree.

I have not mentioned the soap ornament since.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:52 PM on September 16, 2018 [14 favorites]

If you don't do this your house literally fills up with random drawings of cars.

I kept the one where he re-told Star Wars, and the valentine he drew for the Falcon Heavy. Otherwise? Recycled!
posted by temancl at 6:53 PM on September 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Never let your four-year-old help you take out the recycling because it may end with a kid frantically ripping things out of the bin, which then get caught on a breeze, so you have to decide whether to chase paper down the block or usher a child wailing “Nooooooooooo!” back into the house.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:56 PM on September 16, 2018 [26 favorites]

But what if the child grows up to be a famous artist? Isn’t there a market for juvenilia?
posted by njohnson23 at 7:01 PM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

As an aunt I love finding old things my niece drew and pressed upon me. It’s lovely seeing just how she dealt with dogs on a spectrum and how many glittery things she thought were appropriate for special occasions. Now she does minecraft and I get sad because everything there is truly ephemeral to me.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:11 PM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

Umm, have you any idea how much art kids make? You have to throw away all but the best stuff or you’d end up buried in it.
posted by Artw at 7:18 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I prefer to rip it up in front of them, while explaining that it lacks quality/maturity/a certain something. Just to watch the hope and love die a little in their eyes.
posted by greenhornet at 7:20 PM on September 16, 2018 [56 favorites]

My mother was not a particularly attentive woman. And my father's work was so dominant it ensured he saw his children only occasionally.

The upside of this was a relaxed upbringing, me and my brother and some friends in similar situations would do more or less as we pleased.

The two drawings I have, held by mother more or less by accident, are heartbreaking.
I have a drawing of an apartment building we lived in in SE Asia for a few years. I went back there recently, for the first time in 35 years, and I can see the romance of it, little boxes all stacked on each other, a lone pine tree at its base.
I also have a drawing of an owl that fills its page right to the edges, its feathers lovingly worked in blue and green crayon, which hovers over a small piece of text:
"On Halloween families get together and remember the past".

I have kept almost everything of my two children, now in their young teens. Those hyper productive times when they produce dozens of pictures a day quickly pass. But the nostalgia in those drawings and stories and blurred paintings lives for ever.
posted by Plutocratte at 7:23 PM on September 16, 2018 [22 favorites]

I have the exact opposite problem, because my child only creates art in the medium of sand mandalas or interpretive dance.
posted by FJT at 7:41 PM on September 16, 2018 [59 favorites]

We put the good pieces of artwork - well done or memorable or a milestone - in the hallway during the school year, stuck to the wall with painter's tape. At the end of the year, we take it down and I toss the stuff that's just whatever and then keep about a dozen things. I don't actually have a system yet for storage because I am an overthinker but I need to get on that! But for the most part I just toss.

I have this one thing, though, that I had on my bedroom wall for a very long time. It was a very early piece of "representative" art and I feel like she made it when she was about two. She came to me so proud and it was just swirls of purple and she said, "Look! See!" I asked what is this drawing? And she said, "It's you! You are holding me!" Y'all. Melts my dark heart. I think I have that one stowed away with a description and date on the back because once it was off the wall, you can't tell which way is up. And at some point, when my daughter was, like, 6, she asked about it and I explained it and she looked confused and said, "I don't see that at all." But, you know, someday she might again.
posted by amanda at 7:45 PM on September 16, 2018 [44 favorites]

In our household we do a lot of drawing on the magnetic drawing board with built-in eraser dealie. Sometimes the same drawing several times in quick succession.
posted by Phssthpok at 7:48 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm cool with everything being thrown out except the one Christmas ornament I made in kindergarten with lots of glitter and maybe melted crayon and it's awesome and I don't care how often my mom tries to get rid of it, I sneak it somewhere on the tree every year.
posted by TwoStride at 7:56 PM on September 16, 2018 [15 favorites]

I, too, agree that *most* children's art should be thrown out, with the exception of the masterpiece I completed at age 4 titled "Up Up Up Down Down Down Stairs Stairs Stairs" (crayon and marker on construction paper). A withering critique of free-market capitalism, the likes of which the visual art world hasn't seen since.
posted by duffell at 8:18 PM on September 16, 2018 [43 favorites]

I do hope Ms. Townsend throws away all her first drafts, journals, unfinished chapters, outlines and pitch letters.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:22 PM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

What kind of psychobabble is this? You start throwing it away when you run out places to stash it. Which happens quickly way before you hit child #3. Then everyone forgets they existed until a move and even more is thrown away. Sometimes entire Parents Night packets go straight into the bin. "Dad is fat and plays video games all day", you keep that one.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:36 PM on September 16, 2018 [27 favorites]

My daughter has taken to drawing avatars for me, I’ve taped the originals to my monitor and used camera images for profile pictures. Some of her first line art/watercolours are framed and on the wall. The digital photos for her first art show are packed away. I have massive 24x36 acrylic canvases from a few projects. The cartoon booklet memorializing the dog sits next to the urn with his ashes.

These things are not trash. My child is 11 and she makes things that I am proud to show and want to see again in 20 years. Curate the hell out of the kids art collection, by all means. Don’t chuck them all! I am happy I saved at least a few potato people from the early years so I can see her journey. The early grade school illustrated journals are also priceless.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:51 PM on September 16, 2018 [13 favorites]

3 months is the amount of backlog the typical American middle class home can take. I know you parents of three year olds think it’s all precious, and it is. But if you get more than 3 months behind, it’s over. There will be no evidence left that any adults once inhabited your home.

We pick a few things according to our philistine tastes to put up. If there’s something they love and we’re like “why?” it can stay in their room. After 3 months it goes into the garage for a month, just to make sure there isn’t something *critical* and unfinished and then recycling.

Yes, I miss the times they would follow instructions and make the bottle with layers of colored sand instead of demanding to play Kanye West and bring home pictures of the Seattle Sounders’ awesome defeat of the Star Wars Rebel Alliance, but they don’t care for my nostalgia and I need a home with some open space for *actual* art and beauty.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:52 PM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I object to the absolutist tone of this article. I'm not going to throw all of my son's artwork away. I haven't kept every piece either, but I have absolutely saved some that I or he or his mom want to keep. I have some of my childhood drawings too, as well as stories I wrote, and some audio files I copied from cassette tapes, and if I had any home movies I would have saved some of those too. I have recordings of songs my kid has recorded. It's part of our personal history. It's okay to be sentimental. When he's my age, it will be okay for him to spend a Sunday evening in the basement looking through his old pictures, sparking old memories, reliving his childhood.

"Eventually, if you’ve looked at it often enough, the art becomes pitiful, emptied of meaning. It remains, at best, a sign that the child has moved on to another equally ephemeral moment of their lives, already coloring on something else. The crisis of children’s art starts here, when the work feels both important and irritating all at once."

I have a picture that I drew when I was six of our house and my mom and dad and brother and cat and one of the chipmunks that we fed out of our hand and the big tree that grew through a hole that my dad cut in the deck. That picture has never in my life irritated anyone and is in fact a perfect time machine to transport me to my childhood home. What the hell is wrong with that?
posted by vverse23 at 8:59 PM on September 16, 2018 [30 favorites]

I tend to agree with the writer here, although one of my sons, at age seven, did such a great drawing of a rabbit that I'm never going to throw it away, ever.
posted by JamesBay at 9:05 PM on September 16, 2018 [68 favorites]

My sister and I collaborated on drawing, coloring and designing clothes and accessories for over 200 paperdolls over the course of 2-3 years. We loved them and played with them all the time and they all had names and backstories and unique clothing! I had them stored in a wooden treasure chest and my mother threw them away during my first semester at college.

She was an abusive mother and did a lot of mean things to us, but one of the few things I have NEVER forgiven her for is throwing our beloved paper people away. I'm even more mad about those paperdolls being tossed than the 300 Beatle cards in pristine condition that she also threw away.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:18 PM on September 16, 2018 [25 favorites]

I prefer to read this article as satire. As such, it captures the profoundly damaged conservatism that The Atlantic was once famous for, depicted with a chipper bleakness that feels like it's coming from the sort of mom Bret Easton Ellis might write if he knew what women were. Or maybe it's Swiftian, if instead of eating your children, you judged them according to some literally platonic ideal and disposed of their youth accordingly.

The beloved Mr. Rogers made a compelling case for the practice of art even when there’s not much personal skill involved. ... Whether the art is any good or not, doing it is thought to make kids smarter, more confident, and more emotionally grounded. ... Children’s art does contain some beauty, too. ... But soon enough, everything that is wrong or missing becomes more apparent. In the end, this incompleteness drowns the rest out. Eventually, if you’ve looked at it often enough, the art becomes pitiful, emptied of meaning.

That's a seriously dark world view right there. Tragedy is when my child cuts their finger; humor is when some other parent falls down an existential hole so deep their children's art becomes pitiful and meaningless. Good thing I don't believe this essay is meant sincerely.
posted by chortly at 10:07 PM on September 16, 2018 [45 favorites]

When I was growing up my parents put every piece of art we made on a big flat kitchen wall until it was covered. We sat under that wall every night for dinner. In an atmosphere where all the best stuff we did visually never went away I wonder if that’s why now our whole communication is based on injokes that are like 30 years old at this point and that’s my favorite type of joke.
posted by bleep at 10:29 PM on September 16, 2018 [11 favorites]

one of my sons, at age seven, did such a great drawing of a rabbit that I'm never going to throw it away, ever.

I don't know. That looks like evidence to me.
posted by philip-random at 10:37 PM on September 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

I keep picturing Maude throwing Harold's ring in the river. "So I'll always know where it is!"
posted by es_de_bah at 10:55 PM on September 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

I tend to agree with the writer here, although one of my sons, at age seven, did such a great drawing of a rabbit that I'm never going to throw it away, ever.

I'll give you $20 for that drawing right now.
posted by bongo_x at 10:59 PM on September 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

Ooh, or the bit from cex's Dead Bodies:
Another house burnt to ash
another tenant packed the attic
with news of days passed
and oily rags he couldn't part with
I'm so sick of dead bodies who want to be backseat drivers.

posted by es_de_bah at 11:00 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was in kindergarten I drew a jack-o-lantern. My teacher pointed out to my mother that the drawing was unusually and carefully detailed e.g. the jack-o-lantern had eyelashes. My mother laminated it and still brings it out every year at Halloween. Mom is 90 and I am 60.
posted by shibori at 11:25 PM on September 16, 2018 [95 favorites]

I keep the ones with a story to them, where you can see what the kid was thinking. I write it down on the back, which is often necessary because we‘d never recognise what it is from the pictures alone!

Neither of my children is a new Michelangelo, but it‘s so much fun to leaf through the pages, sometimes with them.

I also keep the ones that show a freshly acquired technique, like the first rainbow or whatever.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:28 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe Mary Townsend's kid is a shitty artist.

Mine's a goddam genius.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:31 PM on September 16, 2018 [18 favorites]

I just told my kids I didn’t see what was special about their pictures - a professional modern artist could have done that.
posted by Segundus at 1:58 AM on September 17, 2018 [22 favorites]

Hell, I made one while talking on the phone yesterday.
posted by rhizome at 2:20 AM on September 17, 2018

When I became a stepparent and had kid art in my home for the first time, I was overwhelmed and asked my coworker what she does with her kids' art. She tells them she loves all of it so much, she must take it to the office. And then she takes it to the [trash can in the] office.

I don't think it's all that important to have a reasoned rule about what to do with children's artwork - actual parental asphyxiation episodes are very rare.

I do believe, and research seems to suggest, that lying to your kids is generally not a good idea.
posted by holist at 2:59 AM on September 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

I speak from personal experience when I say that the hurdle "keepable artwork" absolutely needs to clear is "would I be okay forcing my kid to clean stacks and stacks of this shit out of my house after I die?" And I again speak from personal experience when I say that almost nothing clears that hurdle. If I'm not planning on framing it (or otherwise displaying it for decades to come), I'm throwing it away.
posted by saladin at 4:01 AM on September 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Meant to include this quote from the piece, which is spot on and also undersells the horror of this moment, especially when it's happening after your parents have died rather than while they're still alive:

After two boxes, it became too much. The collection demanded a self-reckoning too onerous to undertake. After a while, even the pleasure of looking at it was gone. That’s a bad sign when it comes to art. Real art gives you tools for reflection. But there wasn’t anything left of myself to reckon with in my old art, because the papers I had cast marker or crayon upon at age 5 had never really contained that kind of artistry or inspiration. It produced terror in me rather than comfort to be faced with the sheer volume of time completely forgotten, days spent indoors on a task whose completion went into boxes.
posted by saladin at 4:05 AM on September 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

saladin's comments resonate.

Last year I had to clear out my family house. My parents were hoarders of a certain stripe, and they held onto artifacts of memory: mine, theirs, their parents, and that of anyone else they could get their hands on. Going through it all was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. In particular, I re-experienced the first two decades of my life, including so many things I'd forgotten, buried, or unremembered. The wounds that it re-opened still haven't closed. Having to throw away the endless piles of my drawings, paintings, etc. (and my parents, o the horror of throwing away THEIR paintings and drawings) that had been a pleasure and solace in hard times... terrible, even when it was dull, boring little scribbles.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:13 AM on September 17, 2018 [14 favorites]

I'm looking forward to the continuation of the series. Specifically ... How To Tell Your Kids Their Stuffed Animals Are Dumb ...

Soooo...when's this book coming out? I may need it
posted by NoMich at 4:40 AM on September 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

What is this? Ayn Rand's Tips for Parents?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:56 AM on September 17, 2018 [17 favorites]

Yeah, my mother saved a moderate amount of my childhood bullshit. Which she packed up and shipped to me in a few boxes when she hit 75 years old. And so now it's sitting in an unused cabinet at the office and I'm paralyzed about what to do with it. Not because I particularly want any of it. I'd be perfectly fine if it had never been saved. Rather, it seems difficult to make the irrevocable decision to toss something my mother saved for forty years.
posted by slkinsey at 5:31 AM on September 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

I will never get rid of "Hot Dog, Silent Hot Dog", the small stapled storybook my daughter made.
posted by bluespark25 at 6:01 AM on September 17, 2018 [29 favorites]

Admittedly a bit of a derail, but I was tripped up by the sentence that begins, "In the movie Six Degrees of Separation, actor Stockard Channing’s art-world-obsessed husband observes..."

Why not mention the name of the actor playing the husband? Or does the author think Stockard Channing is a man?
posted by dywypi at 6:09 AM on September 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I guess I’m the only weird parent who LOVES to see the progression from scribbles to shapes to figures to recognizable figures. My oldest is 4.5 and we have her “art” taped all over the furniture. Some of it includes people being struck by lightning.

If I’m ever that joyless please take me out back and force me to read happy books and pet kittens until I recover.
posted by lydhre at 6:23 AM on September 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

A friend of mine was able to show his growth as an artist from 2 until 28 , and it was really neat to see!
posted by astapasta24 at 6:26 AM on September 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

I recently got a bunch of tubs from my mother after her move and they were full of pictures, drawings, grade cards and other things she had collected of mine since childhood. I'm in my 40's now, BTW.

Going through them, I found a handmade birthday card I had made for my father when I was in elementary school. It included, "Maybe you'll spend more time at home this year!"

Might have been useful 26 years ago after my parents' divorce so I could present Dad with Exhibit A as to why Mom left him, but otherwise I could have lived without finding that.
posted by charred husk at 6:30 AM on September 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

One of my most treasured possessions is a picture that I colored for the woman we called Aunt Ruth (who was a friend of my grandparents when my mother was young, and was a grandparent/favorite adopted aunt/fairy godmother to me growing up). We were extremely close during my teens and early 20s, until she passed away in her 80s.

When my parents were cleaning out her house, they found a coloring book page that would have been at least 20 years old. It was the opposite of special, as I was pretty bad at coloring then. But she kept it in a place that was frequently accessed by her. My parents gave it to me, and it lives in my "special documents" folder, next to my birth certificate and passport. So there, I guess.
posted by honeybee413 at 6:31 AM on September 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

>At first, something quite marvelous is expressed on the page. But soon enough, everything that is wrong or missing becomes more apparent.

Jesus. Well, that reads like the author is a mess.

The whole article is bizarre. The author keeps passive-aggressively harping on how art made by kids is no good. "Socrates might ask what children gain by making visual art from their earliest years. Especially when that art bears little aesthetic value." "The beloved Mr. Rogers made a compelling case for the practice of art even when there’s not much personal skill involved." She sneaks in a dig at Matisse, too, a weird variation on "my kid could have done that" that puts down both Matisse and her kid...

Lots of people have wrong opinions, but the idea that 'childhood art is bad art' is IMPRESSIVELY wrong. Ask Picasso why he spent his adult life trying to figure out how to draw like a child. Child Art is a window into Child Mind and there's some fucking cool stuff in there. But I'm sure this lady thinks Picasso's art is 'wrong', too.

Anyway, even if the art were bad, people who are fond of their children sometimes like to see that stuff again anyway. I don't know, whatever, throw your kid's art away if it makes you happy, but this article sucks.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:16 AM on September 17, 2018 [22 favorites]

My kid doesn't enjoy drawing very much. When forced to do an alphabet picture at school, he wrote "L is for Lump" as large as possible across the page, scribbled a tiny lumpy squiggle at the bottom, and (one imagines) sprinted away from the desk toward recess.

You're damn right I framed that one and will keep it forever.
posted by ook at 7:18 AM on September 17, 2018 [19 favorites]

I read some sage years ago who said that a lot of otherwise excellent principles are ruined by the words "always" and "never". Somewhere between "always discard" and "never discard" is a point that will work for most people. If you're at one of the ends of the continuum, great. If your choice is different from mine, great.

I tossed most of the youthful endeavours. I kept a couple from each son that were very special to me, not necessarily because of the "prodigious" talent that created them. I gave the rest to the son, now an adult, that had created the pieces, and said they were free to do with them as they chose, toss or treasure, but the items were not coming back into my house.

My sons have grown into fine men. You know what I treasure? The beautiful, straight, and strong fence my carpenter son built for us using his strength and expertise. The photo I took on my phone of my other son's first feature film credit as it appeared on screen, a reminder of my experience in the cinema watching his name flicker by.

I loved the experience of raising my sons but I have no particular nostalgia for it. As they passed each stage and milestone I would think, "The past was really special, but this moment, right now, is the best moment."
posted by angiep at 7:36 AM on September 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you want to keep it, keep it.

If you don't want to keep it, don't keep it.

Don't worry about what other people do.
posted by freakazoid at 7:44 AM on September 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have one or two clay things each of my kids did and all of the handmade birthday, Father's day and get well soon cards they made for me. My ex-has a trove of "art work" by each child. When we separated, we were discussing dividing up the printed photos (before phone cameras) and the artwork. I agreed to scan all the photos in and to then share them via a Google drive account. When it came to the artwork, I faux fought for them, then 'gave in' and agreed to keep just one or two things (other than the cards). To this day, I think I won that discussion. She thinks she won. To each their own.

(I offered to give the clay canoe to each child now that they are adults. The all declined saying I should keep them as a parent.)
posted by AugustWest at 8:04 AM on September 17, 2018

Kurt Vonnegut had an extended non-fiction rant in one of his books about his belief that treating each little scribble by your child as a masterpiece squashes their ambition. It had something to do with what he felt like was overly effusive praise from his parents for his sister's paintings and how he felt it limited her, rather than spurred her on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 AM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

My partner and I have a kind of a detente in regards to hanging on to the art my son produces especially since he has a particular talent for it.

I am not particularly nostalgic about stuff but for my partner everything is a raw and visceral memory. I moved around a lot so very little of my childhood remains - aside from a couple things from my dad's childhood and few precious things that belonged to my grand parents (including some velvet & Paint By Numbers paintings), all I have left from my childhood is a handful of comics that managed to survive and an odd collection of baptism & birthday cards my mother kept for me. My partner's mother kept EVERYTHING. To the point where after the birth of our child we were overwhelmed by boxes that had been secreted away in some crawlspace for 3 decades. A difficult birth and medical issues afterwards helped to sweep much of that stuff away, including all the random art & school work. It was liberating for my partner to not have it hanging over her head as reminders of her struggles in school or at home.

However, left to her druthers, she would continue the family tradition and save everything my son produces. As the de facto curator and art director of my son's works I regularly purge without regret and/or nostalgia. It's likely the social scientist in me but the point of the curation is deciding if something has value and meaning that will transcend how you feel right now. I remember the first time this idea hit me - in archaeology class and our near to retirement professor brought us to his lab. It was filled on nearly every available flat surface with containers filled with red clay pottery shards. Hundreds if not thousands of them. Every single one a work of some ancient hand and every one of them remarkable in their unremarkableness and quotidian banality. It became very clear to me that when this guy retired most of those shards would likely be tipped into the dumpster or packed up and forgotten.

Taking digital images helps my partner cope but that's not to say I don't keep some physical things - the self-portrait my son did for a father's day present in grade one and the portrait of our family he made in small stones will be neatly packed away in a cedar chest. So yes by all means recycle those scribbles or colouring book pages but recognise when the work has a value that's greater than the immediate.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

The thing to do is to just snap a picture of it, then put it on FB. Then toss the original. It continues to exist as a visual memory that can be called up, but takes up no real estate, and will not figure prominently one way or another into your child's perspective.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The most prolific stuff I made as a kid was all pottery, so my parents' house is just crammed with malformed candle holders, vaguely mug-like objects, absurdly thick plates, and bowls that are not the right size for anything in particular.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:15 AM on September 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

I modeled a dove from clay and gave it to my mother. She told me she loved it and she kept it on a shelf until long after she could remember who made it or who I was.
posted by pracowity at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2018 [25 favorites]

That requires discarding things along the way, and enjoying the appropriate relief.

Yes, the things my child creates are such a bother that it is a relief to be rid of them. Just as it will be a relief to me when they move out of the house, and just as my death will be a relief to them. Nothing has value and things are only good when they're no longer a burden to you.

That’s the kind of activity a parent ought to put their moral and aesthetic weight behind.

Great, another article making a value judgement on how I should conduct myself as a parent. Cool.
posted by Maaik at 8:40 AM on September 17, 2018 [15 favorites]

I see a business opportunity. I will jury your children art and provide comment and critiques with the selected pieces that will be returned to you.
Send SASE and $50 per a bankers box.
posted by boilermonster at 9:28 AM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

In the age of scanners and digital cameras, there's no reason to save a bunch of paper that you may or may not want to look at later.

Beyond Christmas ornaments, my parents never saved any of the art I made, and made no effort to hide the fact that they thought it was rubbish.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:30 AM on September 17, 2018

While my son's rabbit illustration (see above) is a priceless treasure that does indeed provoke deep feelings, as well as introspection whenever I examine it, on the other hand our house features a number of water colours created by my late maternal grandmother, who died at the age of 93 in 2012.

The water colours, all nicely framed, were gifted to my by my mother. Presumably these hand-me-downs are paintings that didn't interest my mother as much, as my parents' house is filled with my grandmother's artwork. Every wall in every room, and along every inch of hallway.

My mother and my grandmother had a fraught relationship, and I suppose this was one way my mother could keep my grandmother in her life. I didn't much enjoy visiting my grandmother (her visits to our house at Thanksgiving and Christmas were excruciating) until the very last years of her life, when much of the power of her personality had evaporated.

I myself had to "send back" most of the paintings to my mother. The paintings weren't all that good, I didn't like having my grandmother's presence throughout my own house.

I do have a couple of her watercolours, though, both of her house, which, with its red roof and perched on a hillside, was an iconic presence in her own community.

So it's not just children's artwork.
posted by JamesBay at 9:52 AM on September 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I generally avoid reading articles that have "should" in their titles. Keeps my blood pressure steady.
posted by 41swans at 10:30 AM on September 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've been cleaning up/out my mother's bedroom in her absence. Half of the drawers in her dresser are filled with art, cards, and snapshots from the grandkids. She has one of those portable 3-drawer carts in the room, and another in her closet, similarly filled.

She's kept it all only because she's afraid of the indignant reactions if anyone realized she'd thrown away their kids' school photos and the stuff their kids made for her. But this spans decades and it costing her living space.

So I got rid of it for her. I didn't throw it out (yet). I've stored it in my basement, which is the family repository for everything that everybody is reluctant to get rid of. After a couple of years of nobody noticing that it's gone, and mom loving getting her room space back, I will make the usual offer: come and get it, or it'll be recycled.

I've never had anyone opt to retrieve any of their stuff from my basement yet.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

After my grandmother's death, we found an envelope with those "do not remove" tags from the sofa cushions, and a signed confession that she had cut them off "because they stuck out and made the place look like a mess".
posted by thelonius at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2018 [18 favorites]

In the age of scanners and digital cameras, there's no reason to save a bunch of paper that you may or may not want to look at later.

Will your grandchildren be able to find your scanned pictures? Will their grandchildren?
posted by corb at 11:07 AM on September 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

Yeah, that's a lot of trust to be placed in hard drives and social media platforms
posted by Maaik at 11:12 AM on September 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

Perhaps paradoxically, I've enjoyed reading this collection of bric-a-brac about knickknacks.

I kept a file folder of my most precious documents; when I up and left the US 21 years ago, I took the most special of those with me: birthday cards, notes from friends, and my childhood stories and illustrations. Diplomas, awards, signed yearbooks, diaries, photographs – except a few of our dogs and my big fluffy cat – stayed back home. (My university diploma was sent to me overseas since I finished the degree in France.)

It ended up being all I have to remember my childhood. Requests for more photos went ignored. I was able to surreptitiously rescue about a dozen the last time I went back, but that's it. All the rest were trashed. I've re-read the birthday cards, notes, and stories many times. A lot of the stories were about an abandoned dog who then left behind her former home in search of friends. Started writing those when I was six years old. Always made sure that the dog's best friend was named Pete, which was the name of the Cocker Spaniel who took better care of me than my parents ever did. The abandoned dog lost everything, but made lifelong friends and learned to make her own way. (I'm not post-hoc mythologizing, it's literally what I wrote in elementary school.)
posted by fraula at 11:14 AM on September 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

My kid doesn't enjoy drawing very much. When forced to do an alphabet picture at school, he wrote "L is for Lump" as large as possible across the page, scribbled a tiny lumpy squiggle at the bottom, and (one imagines) sprinted away from the desk toward recess.

This is now my favorite kid story.
posted by holborne at 11:18 AM on September 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is great.

Also, the Etch A Sketch and Light Brite were great, because they were inherently ephemeral. (Fuck you, Spirograph, enabler of bad habits.)

In the near-future virtual world where storage is free, perhaps this won't be an issue.
posted by eotvos at 12:08 PM on September 17, 2018

I let my daughter decide what art gets kept and what gets thrown away. I have a very personal reason for doing this.

When I was a child I used to make "newspapers" out of sheets of yellow legal pad, folded in half and held together by a pair of bobby pins. I covered local and national news, weather, and of course there was a comic. 40 years later, I became an actual journalist, and thought it would be a laugh to look at these proto newspapers. So I called my dad and asked about them and he was like, "I... think I remember you making those? Kept them in a shoebox? Yeah we threw those out decades ago."

Of course, I didn't blame him. I actually would have been surprised if they were still around, and wasn't sore at him about it. But I did feel a pang of loss that only partially had to do with those newspapers. Our family moved a lot. My dad regularly threw away whole boxfuls of things, without consulting anyone; sometimes things that were actually treasured at the time but he didn't feel like taking to another home. So off they went to the dump and the fog of memory. As a result, I feel as though there are huge gaping holes in my past, nothing on record, no artefacts I could maybe some day pass down to my daughter.

So I let her decide for herself when a drawing, a toy, an accessory is done. And our home is actually not cluttered by a pile of things she never uses or looks at. Even if it was, at the very least she has the agency in deciding what's going with her, and what's getting left behind.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:11 PM on September 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

You have to save a select few to try and embarrass your kid with later. Mom has a couple of mine saved, one I dig because it's a shark being chased by a bunch of other animals with his tongue hanging out like a wagging dog. The other cracks me up to, it's a letter I wrote my mom with pictures of cherubs with genitalia. My Dad had just read me a book about Sex or making babies, so genitals were a hot topic for me at the moment. Plus the same letter comes with a reminder my first and only question about the sex book was if they used watercolour or coloured pencil.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:16 PM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

But soon enough, everything that is wrong or missing becomes more apparent

Say what you will, but I maintain that Catseye Jr’s recent preschool masterpiece Superman: A Little Bit Sad is better than the last few films.

Also there are some pages saved from Darwin’s Origin of Species manuscript because his children used them as drawing paper. so THERE.
posted by Catseye at 12:19 PM on September 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

I wasn't advocating not saving anything; I was only saying you don't have to keep stuff you don't want to keep. One look at my apartment would convince anybody that I'm I'm not anti-saving-stuff.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:23 PM on September 17, 2018

I'm middle-aged now, and I treasure the handful of drawings that my parents kept. They are little glimpses into my childhood.
posted by mkuhnell at 12:25 PM on September 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

Is this author going to follow up with a scathing article admonishing parents not to attend their children's school plays because they're not well-performed?

Like, I get it, if you don't want to save every scrap of paper your kid scribbles on, do whatever you feel is best. If you want to save absolutely everything, go for it. If you want to find some middle ground, excellent. But "trash your kid's art because it's not good" is insufficiently human. I'm not keeping it because it's good art, I'm keeping it because my child made it.
posted by Maaik at 12:27 PM on September 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm an adult and I still save almost all the art I produce, regardless of if I think it's particularly worthy or not.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:45 PM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

We took an entire roll of picture hanging wire and ran it along one wall of the kitchen with about a million clothes pins. We hang kid art and significant docs along the wire until there's no room and then do some culling. Anything deemed worthy gets a digital photo and a trip the the recycling box, while a few choice items are kept intact in a genuine plastic bin. The kids have varying levels of interest in the project, but the fact that there are even pictures of their work is a huge concession of the part of my lovely wife. She grew up in an engineer's home where no sentiment ever came between a used thing and its eventual place in the trash.
posted by Cris E at 1:30 PM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

So it's not just children's artwork.

Oh, Christ. My wife's father has just put half a dozen paintings on our walls, all oil landscapes that would be totally uninteresting to anyone but that they were painted by his father and grandfather, or maybe by his grandfather and great-grandfather, and now her father is getting old and thinking about dying, so he's making sure the paintings go somewhere.

So now we have these paintings no one wants taking up wall space we could have put to better use or kept pleasantly blank. But maybe my kid or his kids will be interested in them one day. "My gggg-grandfather painted his house by the river." If not, someone will take them down and toss them after my wife dies (assuming I kick the bucket first, which is very likely) and see the original color of the paint on the walls.
posted by pracowity at 2:00 PM on September 17, 2018

My facebook profile picture is a picture my neiphling drew of me on the Christmas cards she gave me last year. It charmed me and I made it my profile picture and I haven't felt moved to change it.

It's probably just as well I don't have kids.
posted by BrashTech at 2:30 PM on September 17, 2018

Will your grandchildren be able to find your scanned pictures? Will their grandchildren?

Scan all your chil'd artwork and upload it to the internet archive, problem solved. If we can get everyone onboard, a few decades from now someone can write some very interesting research papers about the evolution of children's artwork over time.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:49 PM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fill a backpack with as much of your child’s artwork as you can. Clearly label the backpack PERMANENT COLLECTION, and leave it at the coat check of the nearest art museum.
posted by snofoam at 3:49 PM on September 17, 2018 [10 favorites]

We don't have kids. We collect Children Art from our family & neighbours, display them, and archive them when we run out of wall space. Children Art is always really fascinating to us. It reflects something elemental to our existence, or something like that. But you don't have to save it if you don't feel like it, it's ephemeral by its nature.
posted by ovvl at 5:56 PM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

My little daughter was annoyed that I wouldn't take her to the Women's March in D.C. I got home and found that she had created this protest sign. I never want to throw it away.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:27 PM on September 17, 2018 [20 favorites]

Nothing gives me as much existential horror as looking through my own boxes of mementos. Remembering how much I’ve forgotten is remembering how much closer I am to death. I think it is compassionate to curate rather than saving it all.

I have not curated my kid’s art well, nor have I displayed very much of it at all. Guiltily I have wondered if this is part of why her fine motor skills are rather bad - she didn’t like doing art, because why bother if mom and dad can’t get excited about it?
posted by eirias at 8:00 PM on September 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

came for the shitmobile, left satisfied. (thanks to The Underpants Monster).
posted by some loser at 8:18 PM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

although the aforementioned shitmobile is on page 10 if anyone is looking for it.
posted by some loser at 8:22 PM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Blessed are parents of children with weak memories. Unlike me, the parent of two children who will literally wake me up at night saying, "MOM REMEMBER THE PAPER AIRPLANE I MADE FOR YOU LAST YEAR WHERE DID YOU PUT IT I HAVEN'T SEEN IT IN SO LONG DID YOU LOSE IT"
posted by MiraK at 9:28 AM on September 18, 2018 [13 favorites]

Just wanted to add that I value being able to touch and interact with my childhood artwork in a way that I never would if they were digital images, which have far less emotional power to me. Not saying that it's worth keeping everything (it's not), but please do keep SOME things. It may mean a lot to your kid.
posted by mkuhnell at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

The director of our Kindergarten gave all the parents advice on throwing out their children’s art. This wasn’t anti-sentimental and unsympathetic, but rather an explanation that she was sending home all their art: it would be unfair for her to act as a critic or filter, and it’s totally fine to get rid of some of it that neither you nor the child are attached to, and not being buried under A4 scrap paper doesn’t make you a bad parent. Also to do so in a way that they don’t find it in the recycling, because that leads to tears.
posted by frimble at 10:55 AM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Semi related, but I'm still mad at an elementary school teacher who unceremoniously threw away a collective class project mid-construction with no explanation and left the remnants in the recycling for us to find.

It did teach me a lesson, but probably not the one she was going for.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:12 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

The point of life isn’t to prolong youth, but to have grown up.

Fantastic that Mary Townsend has finally determined the meaning of life. Close down the philosophy departments!
posted by Chrysostom at 3:13 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

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