Tossing Your Child’s Artwork

Kind and ever pleasant readers, do you have art projects from your youth that you held onto and cherish or your parents held onto for you? A few years ago, I came across a couple of art projects from my youth that my mom had held onto. Everyone is familiar with the hand turkey. It’s a quintessential child art piece that at one point everyone makes. I can only assume that in countries not celebrating Thanksgiving some percentage of kids are drawn to trace their fingers and thumb to create some kind of bird – probably not even understanding why they must do this. Then the turkey or other foreign fowl is given to the parents to put on a refrigerator or whatever is used as an art gallery in homes abroad. Next comes the tricky part. How long do the parents hold onto the crafty little bird? Do they wait until the following year when a new bird is formed from the now larger hand or do they dispense of the bird unceremoniously?

This is what I would like to talk to you about in our limited time today. Our one-sided conversation will be two-fold. When do you throw away the artwork that you created as a youth, and next, how, when and do you ever part with the wondrous little pieces that your very talented child has created. If you don’t have a child, or are past that phase with older children, please still continue to read. Some day you may be able to help a friend in need throw away their child genius’ artwork.

With regards to our personal saved items, I’ll start by saying dads are not the best at saving things. I know for a fact that my dad didn’t file away any hand turkeys to pull out and look at later. That was my mom’s job. Hold up buckaroo, before you go off in a huff, I understand that some of you reading this are saying men have the capacity to save. I agree. If it weren’t for my wife’s diligent attention to this, I might occasionally save something. But, unfortunately, like myself, most dads are not very good at this.

But, let me cut to the chase (as if you wouldn’t let me). I have several artworks that I’ve had since childhood and they’re all things that I’ve saved: a super cool wolfman mask, that doesn’t fit my face anymore, a painted rock, a tin relief of Yosemite Sam, and a clay wolf head with marble eyes. It’s interesting that half my sacred art belongings are wolf related, but that’s probably another story. My point is that they are all things that I’ve saved. I think I’ve thrown away the things my mom saved – unless she has memorabilia stashed someplace – I’m down to my last four things. I’ve tried to give the mask to my son – I’ll call him Hoyt- but he’s apparently not yet interested in really cool things. So, my simple answer is to throw away anything your parents saved for you, unless it meant something to you when you made it – or you really, truly like it now (or your parents want to hold onto it). Don’t think you’re going to pass your art junk onto your kids. Don’t do that to them.

Now for the hard part dear, courteous readers. What do you throw away of your child’s wondrous artwork? The short answer is – most of it. There, I said it. I should let you in on a secret. Our household has an ace in the hole on this topic. My beautiful wife – let’s call her Cynthia, for the purposes of this story – is an art teacher. She actually has the powers to understand age appropriate developmental skills. At a minimum, she can conjure up a reason why one thing should be held onto and another thing thrown away. It’s not important to be an art teacher to make these decisions. Everyone knows their child and what’s special and why, so just relax all you moms on the verge of getting irritated with me. And I say moms, because, frankly dads don’t get irritated by stuff like this.

Even though Cynthia has the ability to understand what art to keep and what to let go, they are still her kids and sometimes we hold onto things for over a year before the correct perspective be put upon the hand drawn toilet with a kitty cat (or is it a squirrel). My guidelines are fairly simple. There must be color involved and it can’t be part of a daily assignment.

Even with Cynthia’s skill set she is still strapped with daily guilt of not having completed baby scrap books and yearly categorized compilations of artwork, memorable statements, and pictures. I suspect across the land there are piles of pictures, scraps of papers with uncanny child statements, and stacks of artwork just waiting to be filed, as mothers carry the weight of their evil unfinished transgressions against the memories of their rapidly growing or grown children.

Tip 1:
Once you have determined the right time to throw a particular piece of artwork away, do so swiftly and decisively.

Tip 2:
Remember to bury said artwork in the garbage.

Their little bodies glide around the house closer to the floor than you. There have been a couple awkward moments when a low walker has walked past the garbage with the hint of a colored transformer or a poorly drawn ballerina foot sticking out of the trash. The interrogation can be stinging. That artwork was to be special to them for at least another day and a half. But there must have been a mistake and the bad art is saved from the trash – until another fateful day.

The decisions on what to throw away become easier with child two. It’s just like the long gone days of balloons drifting around the house for weeks after birthday parties. Please don’t pretend you don’t know what I speak of diligent and perceptive reader. With one child, the balloons would float around and be played with until eventually they would wear out and die a dignified balloon old age. With two, three or more children there can be fighting over balloons, so the battle hardened parents, with the precision of a mafia hit man wait until children are soundly sleeping and “unair” the balloons with a pin and a silencer. Once again, scrap balloons should be buried under the other trash. Any questioning children can be easily saddled with the false information that the changing humidity must have popped them during the night.

The goal should be to try to keep saved artwork at a minimum. Maybe a couple of things from each year that represented an important time or actually was really good. For example, first writings of names are always good to hold onto. Don’t hold onto something because you think your child just made a Jackson Pollackesque painting. Sorry, to break it to you, but that was just an accident.

And you friends out there can help by letting parents know when a child’s artwork might actually just be crappy. It then becomes the parents prerogative to hold onto crappy art or not. You’ve done your job. You probably won’t be asked back to dinner, but, rest assured, you’ve done your job. Parents need all the help they can get to keep junior’s art portfolio as tight as possible. College is only a few short years away and they will have to have room for the beginning of their ten-year collection of crappy furniture – that they won’t be able to throw away.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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