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