Everything They Ever Need to Know They’ll Learn

Recently, my 8-year-old Eli purchased this painting at a yard sale with $3 and a great deal of excitement:

Beautiful not Perfect

He gazed at that painting on the walk home, wandering in distracted zig zags up the street. Eli would love to be an artist himself. He also struggles with anxiety, and will spend hours alternating between drawing two or three lines and crumpling up the paper to start over, and crying because it’s “not right.” All the cajoling, convincing, talking, and story-telling in the world, all the platitudes about it being the effort that matters, about it not having to be perfect, about the importance of practice practice practice–all of it avails nothing. The child gets stopped up, frustrated, and eventually quits with nothing to show.

Standing in our front yard that morning, still examining his new treasure, he said, “Mommy, I learned something from this painting.”


“See how the lines aren’t straight? And it’s kind of zig-zaggy outside the lines sometimes?”


“And it still looks good.”

And then he walked into the house, requested crayons and paper, and spent the rest of the morning creating a landscape of his own–no false starts, no whines and tears, just concentrated effort. Over the course of the morning, he examined several landscapes by famous artists, played around with perspective and angle, experimented with color and black & white, and–this is the important part–he finished something that he felt proud of.

They teach themselves all the important stuff. I’m just along for the ride.

3 responses to “Everything They Ever Need to Know They’ll Learn

  1. I love this. As a writer, this is how I learn anything. Seeing what other people have done. If things work out, what I am observing connects with what I am currently struggling with. Things don’t always work out. I should pray for more good coincidences that bring about artistic growth.

  2. That is beautiful and awesome . What an amazing son you have . So able to learn something that it took many of us 20 years to get!!

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