Art for art’s sake

Toby drawing

I always hated art at school. But I’m delighted that my children – and Toby in particular – have embraced it with enthusiasm.

Art was never my thing. I freely admit that was largely because it was pretty much the only subject at school that I didn’t excel at. English, maths, sciences, languages, history, geography – I was good at all of them and had a real passion for some. But art? Not only was I not good at art – drawing, painting, pottery, whatever, I was terrible – but I couldn’t even find a modicum of enjoyment in our weekly art lessons.

As a perfectionist, I struggled with the fact that my hands were unable to translate what my brain was telling them to do into an even remotely recognisable output. Nothing seemed to work. And, of course, the more frustrated I became, the worse the result.

It also didn’t help that I had one of those art teachers who looked down her nose at any student who produced sub-standard work because, obviously, even if you were a top academic student, if you failed in art you were worthless in her eyes.

I’m not normally given to strong emotions about people but the biggest reason I hated art as a subject was that I hated her. I’m neither lying nor exaggerating when I say this, but I still remember the afternoon when she revealed the marks for our second year (what is now year eight) art exam, holding up my (admittedly feeble) effort, announcing my mark (one of the lowest in the class) and openly inviting ridicule from my classmates. I’ve never been the most self-assured person, so you can imagine how well the 13-year-old me took what felt at the time like a public humiliation.

I went home on the bus that afternoon with my eyes stinging with welled-up tears. You won’t be surprised to know that I dropped art at the first opportunity.

Anyhow, enough about my inadequacies. Suffice to say that, although I am creative in other ways, I have no artistic ability whatsoever.

The next Andy Warhol?

Isaac and Toby, however, are a different kettle of fish (and Kara shows signs of following suit). Despite my emotional scars, it delights me that the kids actively enjoy drawing, painting and all other forms of arts and crafts. The walls of their bedrooms and our dining room are covered in an ever-changing montage of their latest creations.

Isaac approaches art the same we he approaches everything: he’s methodical, has a keen eye for detail and likes to be precise. Toby is the opposite: he’s all about minimalism and the big picture and is approaches his work with an insouciance that appears almost slap-dash. To my eye they’re equally good but it’s not difficult to tell whose work is whose.

Toby drawing

Anyhow, the image above is something Toby randomly dashed off on the iPad the other day after we had just come back from seeing Paddington at the cinema. It’s such a Toby sort of picture: the minimalist sketching of a bear in a blue duffel coat, accompanied by an equally spartan outline of a certain famous clock tower. (Toby’s all about the landmarks – if I’ve seen one drawing of the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House or Leaning Tower of Pisa, I’ve seen 500.)

He’s already developed a distinctive style of his own, and some of the pictures he produces are genuinely very good for a not-quite-five-year-old. But it’s his enthusiasm as much as his ability – he certainly didn’t get those from me! – that delights me. Like Isaac, he’s doing fine with his reading, writing and maths, so for both of them to be showing a greater degree of all-round ability than their father and his two left hands – is that an expression? It really ought to be – and to enjoy the simple act of drawing/painting something is utterly gratifying. Just don’t expect me to give them any marks for their work.