Throw Your Children’s Art Away

Childhood is short-lived. It’s okay if kids’ drawings are, too. An Object Lesson.

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Children make art constantly. From the earliest age, adults press crayons into their hands. Art offers kids something to do, and folk wisdom holds that it’s good for them, too. But after the activity is over, the artwork sticks around. And that’s where the problems start.

My young children leave their art everywhere. I find most of it on the floor. It gets ripped, crumpled, or marked up with footprints. I confront it mostly when bending over to pick it up. Often, I encounter a drift of several layers of drawings, spilling off glitter and painted rice. Others tumble off the refrigerator.

After a few years, I had a crisis over what to do with it all. I hadn’t yet started the carefully curated collection that I remember my own mother making for me. And in truth, it’s difficult to choose which pieces to keep. “Oh, but we have to keep this one,” I think, every single time. And if this one, why not another?

The hidden meaning of kids' shapes and scribbles

Eventually, I started throwing it all away. Perhaps I am a monster. But the relief involved leads me to believe I’m onto something. What parents do with children’s art depends on what they think about the nature of childhood, nostalgia, and beauty.

The correct answer is to make the art, bestow it upon someone to behold and admire for a while, and then toss it. It makes the right tribute to beauty and it’s the correct moral stance toward the more ephemeral qualities of childhood.

Debates about the proper way to value and preserve art have existed for millennia. For example, Socrates was known for his willingness to discard all art completely, on the grounds that any representation amounted to a false truth. But Plato, his student, was exceedingly concerned with his own work’s preservation. He went to great lengths to compose art to protect the search for truth.

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