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Hollow Tree Ventures parenting humor
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Art Lessons

At dinner, the kids were telling me about a movie they watched at school; it was a biography of Vincent van Gogh.


"Van Gogh only sold one painting during his whole life," started Jake.  "One time he... Well, I shouldn't talk about it during dinner."

We all know where he was going with that, but I should interject that Jake claims to have a weak stomach.  Even though he can carry on a joke about boogers and eyeballs for twenty minutes, he makes a production over losing his appetite if anyone mentions anything remotely gross at the table.

"Oh, is this about him cutting off part of his ear?" I asked.

"Yeah," interjected Zoe, who does not share Jake's compunction about gritty dinner conversation.  "Then he had a really  bad day and he shot himself.  But he didn't die for two whole days!"  A really bad day, indeed.  She seemed a little too jazzed about that for my taste, so I tried to steer the conversation away from the gorier details.

"That's too bad.  I wonder if he spent his whole life thinking his art was no good, because nobody bought it.  And now look, he's a famous artist and his paintings are worth millions of dollars," I said.

"MmmHmmm," mumbled the children, who were chewing and didn't want to get in trouble for talking with their mouths full.

I decided to use the silence created by their preoccupied mouths to have a Teaching Moment.  You know what I mean - those times when you start to feel all Wise and Parenty and you suddenly decide you're going to impart some Grand Life Lesson to your offspring.  You envision filling their heads with wonderful knowledge as part of a deep and meaningful discussion that will change their understanding of the world, maybe even resulting in a Bonding Moment that they'll remember forever.

Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking, either.

"Or maybe he knew  his art was great, but he spent his life frustrated because he couldn't get famous enough to share his gift," I continued.

"MmmHmmm."  It wasn't clear at this point if they were MmmHmmming because their mouths were still full, or if they were just getting bored.  Nevertheless, I went on.

I posed the question, "Do you think it would be harder to feel like something you made was worthless because nobody wanted it, or to know  it was good and not be able to get anyone to acknowledge it?"  I was determined to cram their heads full of Deep Thought and Introspection, plus it was a subject I'd been thinking about on some level myself, having recently started to reach out to other bloggers, sharing my writing and reading theirs.  So I kept right on rambling talking.

"Well, maybe that's one reason why we shouldn't let how we feel about ourselves be influenced by other people's opinions."  They nodded, chewing, chewing.  "Lots of artists have to deal with things like that.  Painters, sculptors, writers.  Some are even afraid to try  to share all their work.  There's a poet, Emily Dickinson, who had a secret stash of poems that no one knew about until she died.  She even wanted all the poems to be burned, but now they're published and she's very famous."

Zoe's eyes got wide and she began to smile, a look of recognition spreading across her face.  Maybe I've gotten through to her with some Grand Life Lesson,   I thought, celebrating silently in my head.  She's been moved by some new realization about her own self worth, or she's been inspired to love art for art's sake, regardless of the opinions of others.  Or maybe she's been reassured that she should share what she creates without fear of what people will think.

"Really?" Zoe asked.  "She's famous?"

"Yes," I assured her.  "Very famous."

"Did that Emily person write the 'Roses are red, violets are blue, you are the greatest and I love you' poem?"

I stifled a laugh.  "No, honey, I don't think she wrote that one."  At that, my daughter completely dismissed Emily Dickinson with a wave of her hand, no longer impressed.

I'm pretty sure I was the one to learn a lesson that evening.  Was it a reminder that concepts like "fame" and "value" mean vastly different things to different people?  Was it evidence that almost any caliber of art, even a "roses are red" poem, can have its admirers?  Or was it an allusion to the fact that being as highly acclaimed as Dickinson or van Gogh won't guarantee that your art will be appreciated by everyone?

No, I think it was simpler than that.  I think what I learned that evening was that sometimes I should just shut up and let my kids talk.  It makes for more entertaining dinner conversation.

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4 comments:

  1. "Do you think it would be harder to feel like something you made was worthless because nobody wanted it, or to know it was good and not be able to get anyone to acknowledge it?"

    I think any artist, writer, etc. struggles with this ALL the time, simply because if no one acknowledges it, we start to question our own opinions of the work or ourselves. While intrinsic validation is obviously the goal and the key to contentment and satisfaction, it's always nice to know others see value in what we do.

    With that said, I'm so glad you stopped by my blog, as now I know of one more "place of value" to lurk from time to time ;) Great post!

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  2. Thanks, Abby, and well said! While I try to remember to write primarily for myself, and to write things that I'm proud of even if no one reads them, it is hard not to crave that feedback from others! So thank you for the thoughtful comment, and for lurking. :) l appreciate it, especially from a blogger whose writing I so enjoy.

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  3. I must admit, I felt as if I were sitting at the table too, listening hard for the Life Lesson. I am by turns full of confidence and self-loathing.

    I secretly thought that once I put myself out there that the masses would huddle around and put me on their shoulders, shouting for more. But I don't even like crowds or people touching me, so what does it all mean??

    I have no idea.

    Your post is good and your kids are lucky.

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  4. Thanks, Tumbleweed. :) It's a struggle to find the balance, isn't it? How much to share and what - if anything - should be held back, how much stock to put in other people's opinions, whether to keep going and enjoy the ride or to cut your losses and move on to something else... Hopefully the writing remains enjoyable enough in its own right to motivate us to continue, though riding on the shoulders of the masses might be nice now and again! I'm lucky I have my husband - for a big, strapping guy, he makes an excellent cheerleader. :)

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