Mama Madison: The home gallery

Art is in the eye of the beholder

"They are not all Picassos. They are not all Picassos," I keep telling myself as I wade through the ever-amassing stack of original artwork taking over the living room. I am trying to sort out which of my 9-year-old daughter's "masterpieces" I should keep from those that will need to be tossed (or at least find themselves on permanent loan to Grandma's "gallery"). I'd been keeping the beast at bay for months, but on the last day of school enough stuff came home in her backpack to fill the entire first floor of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Add that to a prolific stint at a Monroe Street Fine Arts Center drawing class last week, and I think we've got a genuine fire hazard on our hands.

I've already switched up some of my travel routes around town to avoid the Art Cart. My daughter loves the free outdoor program, but I can't bear to bring another "project" into the house. And we're heading out to Art Fair on the Square this weekend. I don't doubt for a second that with all the cool-sounding activities in the kids' area we'll be coming home with yet another full-on exhibit for her personal collection.

Trust me, if the Disney Channel ever wants to do a kids spin-off of Hoarders, do I have a place for them to start.

There are only two options -- carefully curate (my euphemism for toss), or build an east wing. But construction is expensive, and let's face it, they are not all Picassos. I need to find the strength to separate the wheat from the chaff (sometimes quite literally with some of the mixed-media pieces she's created).

I've really struggled to find the best approach. I can try to do something chronological, perhaps saving one representative piece from each year since she's been able to wield a crayon. This method appeals to my chronically organized side. Or I can ask my daughter to help me decide what is her best work, giving her a chance to develop a critical eye. Her involvement would hopefully let me off the hook for not realizing that those tissue paper flowers stuffed into a juice box container were her "very favorite creation off all time." I've been down that road before. I would prefer not to return.

As much as my daughter hates to part with anything, I need to take this opportunity to teach her that quantity is not necessarily quality. I can tell her the story of Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer, famed for having produced relatively few works.

I won't let on that I'm pretty sure I know the truth. His mother threw out the "Girl with Two Pearl Earrings." There just wasn't room in the house.

I must remind my self that there are lots of things from her childhood I haven't saved. I haven't kept every tooth or lock of hair. I need to move away from seeing each thing she produces as a part of her, because it isn't. Sometimes it's just four pieces of yarn stuck on a sheet of construction paper with Elmer's glue.

But as I take the first bag of "not-quite-Picassos" out to the garage, I am reminded of a quote from the cubist master.

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."

Needless to say, the bag hasn't quite made it into the recycling yet.

How do you approach your kids' art achieves? Do you try to save as much as possible? Or have you figured out a way to surreptitiously say good-bye to some of the excess?

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