I love my daughter. I believe she is talented and smart and wonderful and lovely and will do great things, and perhaps some of those things will be artistic things. But I don’t think she really drew this artwork her teacher sent home recently.
Reason 1: Because it’s just too good. Reason 2: Because they want us to buy lots of trinkets (coffee mugs, keychains, canvas bags) with this artwork printed on it, a large portion of which goes to the school—which perfectly great, but which signals to me that just maybe there was a vested interest in making this art really pop.
Behold, the full illustration:
Let’s break this down:
I asked my daughter where she got the idea for the picture and she said, Frida Kahlo. We have, in fact, looked at Kahlo’s paintings online, so this could be her work though she’s never drawn them before. I asked her if she got any help and she said, “Only with the pastels.” This didn’t clarify much.
This swoop is how my daughter draws her own hair. I believe she drew this hair.
I’ve never seen this nose before in any of the dozens and dozens of pictures she’s drawn freehand right in front of me. But hey, everyone’s a critic.
My child has never drawn lips so artistically.
The stars and rocket scene behind the self-portrait are fun and vibrant, but this is unlike/better than any picture my child has ever drawn, and it’s the first picture ever sent home with a solicitation for our money. Coincidence?
It’s too sure-handed. To me, this looks like an adult’s (ahem, art teacher’s) idea of what a kid’s drawing would look like, with the oddly spaced facial features and whimsical lines. I love it. But I don’t think my daughter 100% drew it.
After praising our child for drawing such a great picture, my husband and I asked our child gently to explain her inspiration for it. We asked as unobtrusively as possible, saying Oh honey it’s just so good, we love it, tell us about how you drew this, etc. Did she trace a picture or get help outlining her pencil drawing with a Sharpie, or maybe her teacher told her what to draw? No, I did it! she exclaimed proudly.
As a fan of red-teaming any situation and looking for the obvious flaws in my own logic, I will say that maybe the child was asked to rise to the occasion of making coffee-mug, school-fundraising-level artwork and so she did—like a baller. Maybe it’s just that it’s outlined in Sharpie and photocopied and it looks extra bold. Maybe it’s that she’s actually more artistically talented than most 5-year-olds, myself, and her father, and I’m being awful and skeptical and later on this column will be taken to therapy as proof that I “never believed in her” and I am a bad person.
But here is a picture of something she drew a few weeks ago, something I would say is typical of what she draws on her own:
I love it! It’s the best. But note the difference, the scribbly-ness, the child-like-ness. See the normal 5-year-old-ness? Me, too. For comparison’s sake, here are some other pictures drawn by typical 5-year-olds, and they line up with what my daughter draws too. I’m not bummed by this. She’s hitting the milestones! It’s all good! I don’t need to pretend it’s any better or worse than what it is. I love whatever she is doing, exactly as it is.
So why am I going off on this? What is the harm? What’s the big deal? So she got help—it’s for a good cause!
Well, in part, because this happened constantly at her last preschool (art made by a grown woman passed off as art made by a child), and I chalked it up to the influence of an extremely high tuition; the teachers must have felt obligated to make every child seem like a genius. In kindergarten, I thought, we will finally get a sense of her true abilities and go from there. This is your job as a parent, I think—to mentor your child through the world, to be a partner in their education. But you can’t do that if your intel is false.
Here, then, fundamentally, is my problem with this alleged artwork of dubious origins: it’s needless fluffing. I don’t need fluffing! Neither does she! I would gladly pay money for a picture of a steaming pile of dog shit on a coffee mug if my child really drew it. I would pay money for a tossed-off pencil scribble on a T-shirt if it was really from my kid’s hand, mind, vision.
School—public school, no less!—should be a place for neutral, objective feedback. I realize this involves human people making judgment calls based on what may arguably be a flawed system, but when it comes to art, I want to see my child’s work and only that. And of course, if it turns out this really is her drawing, mommy loves you, honey! Mommy is sorry.
But mommy is also pretty sure she’s right.
Image courtesy of the author.