art and love, rips and all

eva at sunset, originally uploaded by kelanew.

Eva's been having some amount of stress over her artwork lately. Apparently her preschool teachers (at least according to Eva) "always tell [a certain boy] that he's 'turning into a real little artist'." This, she says, makes her feel sad. Or jealous. Or left out. Or that her art isn't good enough. I empathize -- I really do -- as I remember feeling the same way lots of times as a kid. But, I also figure it's okay. It's a little nudge, a reminder, to think of our own work and our own creative expression as an end in itself. It's irrelevant what anyone else thinks about it (in many cases, anyway) and I know only too well what happens when you get caught in the trap of acting primarily for ever-more external validation, when feeling good about it for yourself is never quite enough.

We told her, maybe they thought this boy needed extra encouragement. Maybe he's been practicing a lot and working hard and just figured out some new cool stuff. Maybe your teachers already told you lots of good things that day and they were focusing on someone else. Maybe you're good at lots of stuff so they didn't think they had to tell you every part. Maybe we could do more fun drawing at home if you'd like to learn some new techniques. Maybe it's okay, so long as you enjoyed making your art, and you're pleased with it.

She hears us, sometimes, but she's spent more time moping and or crying about this than I would have anticipated. More than once, I considered asking her teachers to throw her a "good at art" bone to make her feel better. But, in the end, I think this lesson is worth learning. The process is more important than the end result. Your art should make you happy, who cares about everyone else.

The artist boy at school had apparently been noticed in part for his adept shading and blending of colors. I know this in part because Eva told me, but also because suddenly her art has become far more influenced by shading, blocks of swirly colors, layers, with different intensities, and so on; works of art that might, however, be mistaken by the uninitiated as, well... scribbles. Gone (for now) are her drawings of what I'd look like as a robot (purple bow on my trapezoidal head), or aerial views of swim lessons, complete with each child in the color of their actual swimsuit. No more scenes of a sunny garage sale, complete with price stickers, where at least half the merchandise consists of wigs and vases.

I know where she's going with this, so I'm letting her go along... though, admittedly, I had a bit of trouble when she made a card for a soon-to-be kindergarten classmate's birthday that was a depiction of "swirly fairy land", a blend of many soft colors, that would look (to this family we don't know all that well) possibly like the work of her younger sister. I let go, and got over that. We support the process.

Like last weekend, when hours and hours into sorting and packing (in preparation for the new carpet installation -- happening as I type this) Eva came upstairs to proudly show us some of her artwork from the day (we hadn't heard a peep from her for over an hour). We discussed each drawing, then she climbed up into Larry's lap, and he told her he was really loving this new art she'd been working so hard on lately.

She said, "Papa, I love you even more than art! Yeah, I just love you, even more than art." Aww. Knowing I was totally setting myself up, I asked, "Hey, Eva, what do you love me more than?"

Without missing a beat, in her perfected five-year-old deadpan, she said to me,

"Well, I love you more than a ripped paper bag."

Zing. We all laughed, and Eva eventually let a little smirk sneak out. Sometimes, even when you know where you're going, you can be surprised at the answer. And though I don't know exactly where she's headed with her artwork, but I trust in the process, in the evolution. Who knows if I can help her find her way toward an internal motivation, toward love of the intrinsic challenge (because isn't that by definition sort of something she has to do for herself?) but I can at least point her in the general direction. Maybe I'll make a signpost out of a ripped paper bag.

1 comment:

Julie said...

All I can think of is, "oh Eva!" I can see her sitting there trying not to laugh. Tell her that Lilly would LOVE to have one of her art pieces.

P.S. I love you more than a ripped paper bag, too!