7/07/2008

When I am King: A Death to Art

When I am King...

Parents will no longer save their childrens' artwork.

I discovered the true purpose of shredders the other day. Sure, they come in handy in the odd SEC-raiding-Enron situation, and they're passably alright at destroying blackmail correspondence. But their true calling lies with your kids' art projects.

People without kids must imagine that once a year, your child comes home with some heart-felt creation, full of love and personal touches, endearing in its clumsiness, and a truly one-of-a-kind objet-d'art that deserves prominence on the mantel, the stairway wall, or the cubicle divider at work.

But the reality is, of course, much more disturbing. Once a year? Make that once an hour. "Daddy, I made this for you!," says one of the brood, as she hands you something that was probably scribbled with a pencil that happened to be in her toes as she slept, recording its slumberous trajectory on an odd piece of scratch paper near the bed. It looks, after some careful inspection and a couple of 360s trying to get the proper orientation, like a genuine scribble, with only the addition of your child's name at the bottom to distinguish it from some of the pieces hanging in the MOMA.

Now comes the quandary: what to do with it. Of course you'd like to keep it, just like you'd like to keep the other pieces she's handed you in the past hour, or the dozens she's handed you today, or the landfill's-worth she's produced in the last week. But where to put the thing, or where to retrieve it from on the off-chance that someone says, "I want to see that scribble she produced at 10:47 AM on the 5th of July, 2008."

It will go into the trash, of course. There is no more room on your walls, on your ceilings, on your car dashboard, in your iPod RAM, or in the stacks of other past 'projects' sitting boxed in your garage and storage shed. You just can't fit another scribble.

This problem is exacerbated in places like California, where houses typically lack both basements and attics. These local storage areas were both invented out of a need to store kids artwork until they grew up and forgot about it, coming back to haunt them when the children had to help the parents move out of their family home.

But the minute you sneak it into the trash, at the bottom of the bathroom can, beneath the wet remains of a plunger repair attempt gone horribly wrong, that your daughter will somehow wander into that room, pull out that single piece of paper, look you in the eye with the beginnings of tears of tragedy, and say, simply, "Why, Daddy? Why?"

So you thank her for the beautiful art piece and tell her how wonderful it is, as you continue rotating it to look for the correct orientation. You reach behind your chair and flip the button on the shredder, turn around, and carefully feed the paper into the mouth of the beast.

Who says art is dead? It's not dead, but is instead a critical part of the shredding food chain.

Then it suddenly jams, stalling on the gunked up paint that pooled up in the middle of the scribble. You reverse the shredder, then forward again. Jam. Back, and forth, "Rrr-Rrrr! Rrr-Rrrrr! Rrr-Rrrrrrrrr!" You hear a sound behind you and turn around with the picture in your handle, fed half-way into the death machine, as your daughter looks on in horror. "Daddy! I made it for you!" The tears flow, and another day of failing as a father is complete.

When I am King, all children's drawing paper will automatically compost within 24-hours, saving both storage and environmental guilt. Parents will be able to accept and save the cherished pieces, knowing that tomorrow they will be gone. On the off chance that the kids discover that their works are not being hermetically preserved for future generations, explain to them that art, like life, is transient, and that trying to capture a moment in time of a childhood is like trying to hold a butterfly's wing without ripping it off. It is far better for their pieces to become One with the Cosmic Whole. Then pretend you have a phone call and hope they forget.
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