By Gregory Keer
My wife and I are art collectors. Unlike all those dilettantes who acquire Matisse, Sargent or Warhol, we believe we're on the cutting edge with two spectacular young artistes – our sons.
In our kitchen, hallways and bedrooms hang finger paintings displaying Benjamin's early obsession with red and, well, more red. Jacob’s sponge-dot work on rustic paper plates reveals his flair for circles. Now almost 6, Benjamin has moved through a colored tape phase (various construction papers gloriously adhered with masking strips) to a period of making human-like figures without necks. At 2, Jacob has given up paper and other traditional media in favor of applying colored markers directly to the walls.
When asked why he chooses this way of expressing himself, Jacob says (through an interpreter), "I saw art stuck up there, so I thought why not skip a step and go right to the walls themselves?"
I joke but, realistically, Wendy and I are so blinded by our adoration of everything our sons’ little fingers have made that we are now up to our usually proud smiles in scribblings, paintings and sculptures. Art blankets our refrigerator (threatening to defrost all contents within), dangles from a chandelier and clutters our night tables. Running out of open space, we’ve taken to putting papers in folders, stashing them in storage boxes, and using them as bookmarks. And, the stuff just keeps coming.
After school one day recently, Benjamin handed me a bag of (get this) wet wood shavings. I try to figure out if this is some kind of used hamster litter when he explained that it’s for "creating" something.
"What are we going to create with it, Benjamin?" I asked my young Rodin-in-the-making.
"Oh, I don’t know," he said, "but it will be really cool."
Sure it will, I thought to myself before my sentimental tendency creeped in.
"OK, we’ll take it home," I said, reasoning that, after all, my baby made these scraps of oak or pine and, who knows, he might craft a beautiful work of art from them.
A few weeks later, I am scraping month-old oatmeal off a kitchen cabinet when I see a basket brimming with an odd collection of pressed-leaves-and-melted-crayon window hangings, random Power Ranger™ pieces, a dozen beaded jewelry pieces (with most of the beads falling off), an old phone bill (so that's where it went) – and the bag of wet wood shavings. The tree pulp remains moist because the good people of Ziploc™ really know their stuff.
My wife, Wendy, comes in, sees the baggie, and says, "It’s time."
Solemnly, we go to our bedroom armoire where we’ve managed to contain the lion’s share of artwork from the past several years. We pull out stacks of paper and clay and Styrofoam™ concoctions to begin the painful process of throwing away our children’s handiwork.
Some of the weeding out is easy. We linger on a magnet in the shape of a necktie Benjamin once made for Father’s Day and know that’s a keeper. But we toss a stack of our eldest’s indiscernible geometric drawings. We laugh about cut-outs Jacob did (with lots of help) in daycare, then chuck marked-up coloring-book pages.
Some of the artwork editing is quite hard. Do we save his multiple renderings of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria? Or do we put it on the trash heap because we know Christopher Columbus will inspire him on an annual basis? Should we store one of Jacob’s first holiday decorations for posterity or leave room for something that is more than just a pinch of glitter and a thumbprint of paint?
When all is said and done, the process ends only a couple of hours after it began. We’ve gotten rid of lots of similar looking pictures, saving a sampling of items from each year of the kids’ lives. I do admit to digging back through the garbage bag to salvage some questionable pieces, but we now have room for new art and memories, which our children continue to produce with abandon.
One such creation is presented to me on a recent school night. I’ve been in the midst of a heavy work period and Benjamin feels a bit left out. While I work at the computer, he comes in and out of the room with various requests: "Can I use your pen? I’m out of tape, do you have any? I need more paper."
Before he goes to bed, he hands me the project he’s been working on all night. It’s one of his human-like pictures without a neck next to another, smaller, human-like figure.
"This is you and me holding hands," he says. "Put it in your pocket and whenever you get lonely or miss me or something, just take it out and it will remind you of me."
I can barely write those lines without misting with combined joy, heartbreak and laughter at the sheer drama of it. It’s because of all these feelings that the picture will go in the art pile marked "For Keeps."
You can find all of Greg's columns in our Family Man archive.