Sunday, March 20, 2011

Worries linger but construction paper fades

I had imagined parents the world over have been quietly slipping their children’s artwork in with the recycling — saving only the most precious for posterity — since the invention of paper thousands of years ago. But I had no idea it was a subject of great consternation until the New York Times in January published a much-shared expose on the most ruthless of all art critics: Mom.

Maybe the stick figure families committed to scrap paper make it to the refrigerator before finding their way into the trash, maybe they don’t. Or maybe the squiggle-made “elephant” of an undecipherable color helps start a fire moments after it is prodigiously praised for the arch of its trunk and the way its girth fills up the page space.

Health care premiums sky high, education budgets in the toilet; taxes up, jobs down – those worries will always be with us while the color on construction paper fades.

First-World problems, perhaps, but serious business nonetheless, and one more reason our kids will end up in therapy. “Mom is throwing out ART WORK? HO-MY-GAD!”

To be brutally honest, there’s only so much construction paper a one-family construction can hold. But how do we know WHAT we should be saving what we can safely toss?

Some parents have told me they save only "original works of art" that come from the child’s imagination, as opposed to a web-site’s step-by-step instructions. We hate these folks (except for my husband) and have crossed them off our Christmas card list.

Others — *cough*NOT ME*cough* — will save only the stuff their kids insist on sleeping with because they know if they take their eyes off it for even a millisecond, their glorious glitter-covered princess will be art napped and never heard from again.

There rest of us fall somewhere in between. We save probably more than we should, push it around our desks for a while. Moving it from closet to closet — maybe even from old house to new house — before we decide to let some of it go.

We know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so most of us tend to save art work based on our own preferences. In addition to just "liking" something, I tend to save anything that has words used in explanation or that include stories. (Drawings containing misspelled expletives are framed).

But HOW we save it becomes another conundrum.

The following is a list of the most popular methods for saving cherished works of kinderart, which vary by cost and complexity:

Hold the dough, sauce and cheese-y goodness The most cost effective storage: Use a clean, empty pizza box to store artwork by year. Use one box per school: Elementary and Middle school. (High Schooler’s works will probably be off limits. They save what they want themselves). These can easily be stored on closet shelf or under a bed.

Artist Colony You can save all kinds of flat work a handled portfolio case. They are relatively compact but are large enough (if you are discriminating in what you save) to hold most two-dimensional creations a child makes during their entire educational career, unless they plan on going to an art college. In which case they will likely burn all their old drawing and use the case for their "real work."

Artistic Ant Colony This would be similar to the above portfolio case option, but scaled down in size to fit into ordinary office binders. This means parents are limited to keeping only art that conforms to the standard 8 ½” by 11” paper size. Think Origami originals.

Art Recycling Using techniques of collage, create new artworks from old ones: Laminate and make placemats or bookmarks or greeting cards. Use as gift wrap. Or literally recycle by putting lesser-loved works the revolving file ... in the middle of the night ... on the eve of recycling day ... whilst your petite Picasso sleeps. (Then pray the truck makes it to the curb before the bus comes).

The Mother of All Storage Schemes The overachiever parents among us** are digitally documenting each and every work of art Junior makes — from his pencil squiggles to his pipe-cleaner sculptures — and using any one of a growing number of self-publishing sites to turn them into carefully composed coffee table books that can be admired and cherished for generations.

**I have not done this … though I have take pictures of some of my favorites and uploaded them to the photosharing website flickr, where I’ve tagged them as "art" so I can search for them later. (But I pray, perhaps even more fervently than for schools to hold on to their arts programs, that flickr doesn’t go out of business taking all my carefully archived photos with it into the ethosphere).

Now, with the Whats and the Hows solved, the only question left is Why? What will eventually happen to all this pent up creativity?

One day you'll drag it out, dust it off and present it in all its musty glory to the artist, now grown and in possession of piles of his own children's creative genius. What he does with the collection will be the final answer to what has been the real question all along: whether hoarding ... like artistic prowess ... is an inherited trait.

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