“The curator of the refrigerator door can’t be too ruthless. When Dad de-accessions a new finger painting overnight, Dr. Burton said, ‘the child quickly learns that this art that they’re making is very ephemeral.’ In other words, worthless.”
— “Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic,” Michael Tortorello, New York Times
In elementary school, we made these mobiles out of three nesting, open cubes. Three cube skeletons inside each other. Mine was red, yellow, and blue construction paper, respectively. My mother hung my creation from the fan pull over our kitchen table. It was a prime location. I remember it becoming saggy, and battered, and eventually it was taken down, put out of its misery.
Ephemeral things worthless? Aren’t children ephemeral themselves?
My creative writing students write a page most days. I think the page a day is ephemeral. Trash, but not worthless. I pile up, or throw out, most of what I write. And that’s okay. I can make more.
Hung up at my house are a drawing of Peter Pan, and two plastic beaded necklaces, both made by kids at the day care where I worked in college. I spent many hours with each of those little girls. We talked and talked about everything, and ate together every day. I used to let them decide what I would wear out on a Friday night. “Black or red?” I would say, sitting on the edge of the sandbox while my feet were being diligently buried. “Red,” someone volunteered. I had a lot of choices for which pieces of artwork to keep. At the day care, I always rescued kids from afternoon TV time to draw instead. More often, the kids wanted to take my drawings home. So one of the drawings I have bears this transcribed dedication:”For Ms Elizabeth, because I always take your pictures.”
Another work of mine my mother had matted and framed, with real glass. It hung on our fireplace. I was amazed that something I had made could go behind glass, like a real artist. I wasn’t so in love with the picture, though. It was an imitation of a Van Gogh landscape. I remember doing the clouds with a q-tip and white paint. I didn’t think it was very good– that is, it didn’t look like a Van Gogh, and it also didn’t look like what I wanted it to.
We had an art teacher that year who sometimes went in and “corrected” your picture. She drew the eyes on the Santa ornament you painted. I knew that was wrong. I still think about how wrong that was when I hang that Santa ornament every year.
The article mentions the ceremony for retiring an American flag. They burn flags, to ceremonially end their lives. It talks about how parents have to secretly throw out their children’s artwork, or risk being buried in it. Holding tightly to things, and hording them, as if there may be no more, or as if forgetting is unbearable, is not nearly as honorable to me as a cheerful toss in the garbage. Art, and people, are precious and garbage at the same time.