If you’re very lucky and you have a small child living in your midst, your home will soon be overrun by their masterpieces. Crinkled chef-d’oeuvres come home from school or playdates or are created right under your nose, sometimes twenty of them in as many minutes. Parents and caregivers bear witness to the mad genius of tiny artists unencumbered by expectation or concern about technique. Amorphous shapes in blues and oranges emerge on paper and then multiply at a rate that falls somewhere between impressive and truly alarming. Finding a way to honor the output and accommodate the extreme proliferation is a challenge faced by many parents. (No doubt the challenge evolves as the artists themselves continue to grow.)
As far as I see it, kid art, much like any art, faces three main fates: display, storage, or, mea culpa, destruction. Who knew that a central role played by parents of preschoolers is art curator?
I’ll surprise no one by saying that I try to take an unsentimental approach to this particular responsibility. I have friends with dedicated child art walls: a riot of color and shapes and textures papering kitchen walls. The displays are cheerful and bright and no doubt a point of pride for both child and parent. But as a parent constrained by both a particularly small gallery and by a particular aversion to a lot of visual clutter, I take a slightly more conservative approach to in-home art display (and storage).
A few specific strategies:
+ Encourage repurposing (and recycling): Without quashing strong feelings about any particular work, I try to cultivate a general attitude of delighted detachment around art projects. At the risk of sounding callous, not every single piece needs to be treated with reverence and housed in the permanent collection. In our house we paint on both sides of the paper, we cut up past paintings to make collages, or cards for Aunties, or to decorate boxes to send to cousins. And we recycle. A lot. Sometimes I run paintings by their creator before recycling them. Other times, I don’t. Often, the creator herself decides she’s ready to recycle something and she carts it to the recycle bin herself with a flourish.
+ Dedicate a display space: If it doesn’t work for you, this needn’t be an entire wall. We have a large wooden magnet that we keep on our steel apartment door. It creates the perfect spot for a rotating display. You might alternatively try hanging a length of twine and some clothespins at kid level and rotate the art on display in that space. Currently Faye has one large painting displayed on her bedroom wall, held up by washi tape. When she tires of it, or if she wants to hang something else gargantuan, we’ll swap it out.
+ Deaccession: Give your love away. Aunties receiving care packages of toddler art shouldn’t feel compelled to save every piece of art entrusted to them. The process of stuffing it into an envelope and sticking it in the mail is cathartic enough for the artist and the rate of production so high that it’s unlikely, especially among the three-to-five year-old set, that any particular work will be remembered, let alone looked for.
+ Create an archive: Saving some special or favorite or especially poignant pieces of kid art is something most parents will eventually find themselves wanting to do. Some folks choose to digitize artwork, others digitize and print photo books. My sister recently got my nephew a paper portfolio for saving his favorite originals. In our house, we’ve saved a few favorites in a tote hanging in our closet and we’ll likely upgrade to a portfolio come the new school year.
NB. As with every other effort related to children, you will sometimes be foiled in your attempts to curate. There will be a collage of increasingly dry and crumbling flowers that you will not be able to convince your child to recycle (or remove from its precarious perch on her windowsill). It will desiccate slowly, every day requiring patience and relocation as it sheds its herbaceous decoration. Win some, lose lots (encourage Grammy to accept more than a few permanent loans).
For those who have asked, the kids’ table and chairs that we have is no longer available from the manufacturer, but I recently came across this set (table & chairs), which looks solid and simple in case you’re looking for a place for your kid to make art.
For more on how we store art supplies, see: Baby Proof: Toy Storage