It’s a perennial problem – of all the mountains of artwork that young children produce, how much of it should you keep? Maybe you are sufficiently ‘ruthless’ to be able to throw it away without a qualm, but at the other extreme if you are a hoarder like me, you may find it difficult to throw any of it away. There comes a time however when rational decisions have to be made if you’re not to be swamped. But how to make them? It can be difficult to create hard and fast rules here, because what makes something special for one person will be entirely different for another, and ultimately the decision is a personal one. Also you can ‘judge’ children’s art in so many different ways. You might think a piece is special because of the quality of the artwork itself – a child may have observed a subject really well, or show a particularly good grasp of shape or perspective, colour or composition for example – all perfectly valid reasons for valuing the artwork of older children especially. On the whole though, for parents, and with the artwork of younger children, you are more likely to value it because it represents your child in some way. For example the subject matter is special or meaningful, or the child worked really hard on the artwork. Or maybe something about the picture just sums your child up. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing quite like a child’s artwork for representing the inner life of a child.
In these circumstances, the quality (or lack of) in a piece of art really isn’t that important. Also, young children themselves are often more concerned about what their artwork means for them than with the purely aesthetic considerations that an adult may have – it’s a wonderfully unselfconscious stage that doesn’t last, and is part of what makes children’s art so special. Anyway, if you are drowning in your children’s artwork, I thought it might be helpful to give a few guidelines here to keep in mind when deciding which of your children’s artwork to keep and which to discard:
Work to keep:
- Significant subject matter: self-portraits, portraits of family members, familiar scenes or representations of events or activities they have taken part in.
- Artwork which just seems to sum your child up in some way – this is somewhat indefinable, but you will know it when you see it!
- Work which is 100% that of your child in both concept and execution and therefore unique.
- Artwork which is particularly beautiful or ‘complete’ – these pieces of work are often ideal for framing. It is worth remembering however, that if these have been produced in a classroom environment, the artwork may essentially be copied, and not be the child’s own concept. This may or may not be important for you, and the best art teachers will encourage a child to be creative and explore a given theme or concept in their own way.
- Work that your child is especially proud of.
- Try to include some artwork where the child’s own handwriting is included, since this will also add to the character of the artwork in some way.
Work to discard
- Damaged artwork – but remember that if it is a very special piece, it may be possible to salvage it digitally, or you may be able to trim it if only the edges are damaged.
- Colouring in sheets, or worksheets.
- Copied artwork.
- Unfinished work and ‘scrappy’ sketches executed with little care or effort.
- 3-dimensional artwork that is not robust. This includes collages with items that are not securely stuck, because bits will tend to drop off over time. These are prime candidates for being photographed.
Points to Remember
- These are just guidelines, and the decision is entirely personal – do what works for you!
- Sometimes just one section of an otherwise unremarkable drawing or painting might be worth keeping, or one particular otherwise ‘scrappy’ sketch may stand out for you in some way.
- Don’t just rely on keeping paintings and coloured pictures. Black and white drawings can be just as ‘finished’ as a painting.
- Anything you discard can be photographed if you are uncertain, but don’t photograph everything!
- Although in my experience it’s not worth consulting children themselves which pieces they want to keep (so many children will just want to keep everything) it is worth asking them to choose their favourites or best pieces, to help you make the decision what to keep.
I shall look at solutions for organising and storing children’s artwork in a future post, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for a few ideas, you might like to check out at the following earlier posts: