What my 5-Year-Old Taught Me about Art

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Every day after school, my son shows me his “papers”. We go over the letters he practiced, math worksheets, and words, but the most important part is what I find on the backs of the papers. There are always drawings.

My son sheepishly surprises me with them. He says “oh mommy, there’s nothing on the back of this paper.” Then I turn it over, and as I look at him and smile, he smiles back. I say, “this is so beautiful, tell me about this.” And he will tell me, “that’s you and me and daddy, and sun and blue sky and water. We’re at the beach.” I ask, “what were you thinking about when you drew this?”

“I was thinking I love my family.”

Every drawing has us in it. Me, my husband, and our boy. It took me a while to realize this. My son has made hundreds of pictures over several months. Every single one is of his family.

Each picture is a variation of the three of us under a blue sky and sun. We are often at the beach. Sometimes we are on a hike. There are flowers sometimes, a lot of hearts. In some pictures we are green, in others orange. In a few, we have been in the midst of a monster battle in space. He plays with the details, but essentially, each picture tells the same story: our family together.

My son has not discovered a new medium or exotic story to tell with his art. He simply draws pictures of what is important to him, what he loves. He puts down on paper what he carries inside.

I want to be an artist like him. So how can I do that?

  1. Choose one subject.

My son has instinctively followed in the footsteps of many artists including Monet, Cezanne, Jonathan Borofsky, and On Kawara to name a few. They returned to the same subjects over and over again. Harold Pearse drew a picture of his dog every day for a year.

It is okay, good, to examine the same thing every day, over and over again. That is how we get to know it. Our culture is generally obsessed with finding the “newest”, “latest”, “on the pulse” subjects. We avoid been there, done that. We feel if we are not making something new, we are not making something worthy. But there is great value in exploring the same thing for long periods of time. I don’t have to make art about everything; it can be about just one thing. I can write a story about a giraffe 50 different ways.

2. Play with the details.

My son sometimes makes the sun red, adds our dogs, gives me giant hair, or makes himself the tallest. I don’t need to start from scratch to make something new. I can take one piece and change it. I can show what the giraffe ate, or describe his hooves. It can be day or night, snowy or hot. I can change one small thing.

3. Keep a simple thought in mind.

Like “I love my family.”

E.B. White said “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” No more needs to be said.

If I can simply say why I am writing, drawing, making something, the whole process makes so much more sense. I don’t need to go on and on explaining why, or what this is about, or what I am trying to express. Art can (and often does) come from much simpler, more immediate feelings.

To be an artist like my son is to allow what I love to guide me. It is to feel something, to show it, just that.

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Writer seeking wisdom. I write about big questions, little questions, animals, motherhood, and home.

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Tara Marie Gannon

Tara Marie Gannon

Writer seeking wisdom. I write about big questions, little questions, animals, motherhood, and home.

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