Thursday, July 18, 2013

Work of Art

So, we're not exactly artists in our family.

I take that back -- Anna and my mom are both crafty, and both have an uncanny ability to paint and draw flowers.

Aside from that, the rest of us are pretty darned ordinary, when it comes to artistic ability. Some of us are well, downright bad.

I was always the kid who was the last to be finished in art class, begging the teacher to help me because I didn't quite understand what to do. Art was the only special I actually got a C in at one point. That's saying a lot, considering my abilities in phys. ed. (or lack thereof). Dan is far from artsty, but with his engineering background, at least he can envision and design objects in 3-D (the type of projects I stand there staring at because I just don't get what it is).

My dad? Let's just say for the longest time we had a game in our family called simply, "Drawing Contest." The point was to see who's drawing was so bad, it got the biggest laugh. The worst picture won. My dad took top honors, every time we played. He once drew a four-legged duck.

And so we move on to Ethan. Is it any big surprise that sitting and drawing or doing crafts is far from his favorite activity in the world? Every once in awhile, if Anna wants to play school, he will obligingly sit down at the table and follow her instructions for a simple craft. In preschool, his teachers agreed that he seemed to participate in craft and coloring time "under duress."

I remember years ago, watching one of those Desmond Morris documentaries about child development, that explored the way children from all over the world learned to draw in exactly the same way. They showed a fascinating progression of "people" drawings that morphed from big heads and stick feet to a head with torso and arms and legs, and eventually fingers and toes. Every child, from everywhere, learning exactly the same way.

And while apparently this is some sort of "innate" ability, I was glad that this past year in preschool, Ethan's class went over drawing people, step by step. He hasn't exactly gotten much practice. In fact, from the time he could talk until about six months ago, he'd never once initiated taking out a piece of paper and drawing or coloring.

So you can imagine my shock the first day he asked: "Mom, I want to draw a picture."

I was there in a flash, with paper and markers and crayons. I leaned over and watched was he was doing. After a moment, it became apparent. Of course. He was drawing a road. And then he wanted to add signs.

Alas, that is one of the few pictures Ethan has drawn on his own (another involved a skunk and a tree, and another was me. I saved that one on our blackboard for weeks). You see, Ethan's a boy with a mission now, and his mission is to color or paint until every.last.bit. of white paper has disappeared.

"Mom, I want to paint a special picture for you!" Ethan announced the other day. Out came the paints and brushes. A few minutes later, he was all smiles. "Look at what I made for you!" he said proudly, holding up a paper for me to see. Orange paint was smeared everywhere, and dripping off the paper and onto the table. "I made one for daddy, too," he announced, nodding at a similar orange-ish, brown, dripping paper.

"Wow! What is it?" I asked, which was out of habit more than anything. He usually tells me it's a thunderstorm destroying everything. This time, though, he decided to be real rather than humor me.

"It's nothing," he said bluntly. "I needed to fill up all the white parts. Can we hang my picture up now?"

I gently explained we needed to let his picture dry, and he was off to wash his hands.

Looking over at the picture, I had to smile. Yes, this was the type of thing the developmental pediatrician would call a "hallmark of autism;" the lack of creativity, the sameness. And yes, I would love for Ethan to bring me pictures of smiling suns and cars and rainbows and stick people. I think he will. Maybe. After all, maybe he just really doesn't care for art like most of the rest of us.

But there was that excitement in his eyes and his voice. I can't deny that. Dr. Milanese should be here to hear that, too. There was excitement and enthusiasm for trying something new -- and for sharing his creation with his parents.

Maybe he's not creating masterpieces. But what he's showing us is beautiful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I have Nathan's first and probably only drawing of stick people framed above my mantle. "It's a picture of Daddy, Mommy and Nathan," said Nathan.

It's all beautiful!! :)