The Time I Almost Went to Art School (Except I Had No Talent)

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When my brother and I were children, my parents believed in nurturing our talents and helping us become whatever we wanted to be. Kindergarteners have a very small skill set, but they get to paint a lot, so one September day I brought home a roll of manila paper. It was heavy with paint, damp and creased from where my fingers clutched it on the walk.

Jackson Pollock No. 9 – It really does look like that long-ago painting, manila paper and all.

Prepared to gush over any bit of artwork, no matter how rudimentary, Mom and Dad watched me unfurl the paper and thrust it their way. Stunned, they stared at the masterpiece I’d so casually brought into the house. It was like something out of Jackson Pollock – The Kindergarten Years. Bright splashes of color dotted the paper, flirting and frolicking in an arrangement that dazzled the eye. Abstract and playful, it was the work of a confident painter, one much older than five.

The next day they quietly began saving for a fancy art school. I would be the first artiste in the family, and they wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to mix more media than crayons and fingerpaints.

Excited to show off their daughter’s talent, they had the picture framed and hung in a place of prominence over the dining room table, where we could admire it.

And then one night during dinner, as my brother kicked me under the table so my parents couldn’t see, my mom turned to me and asked, “What made you decide to put that dab of blue right there?”

“What?” I asked, more worried about Mom catching me kicking my brother back than about answering her.

She repeated her question.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Well, what about the red, right there in the corner? What inspired that?”

“I don’t know.” Thinking the chat finished, I surreptitiously fed another pea to our golden retriever, who hovered hopefully beneath my heavy wooden chair.

“And the yellow?” she tried again, waving one hand at a few blobs.

“I don’t know,” I repeated. “It’s not mine. I didn’t paint it.”

Silence, as my parents’ forks froze over their plates. When my mom could form a coherent thought, she asked, “You didn’t?”

I shook my head, oblivious to their tension and, not understanding that my entire future as an artist hung on my next word, said, “No.” Then I went back to shoveling stuffed peppers in my mouth because, really, they were delicious.

“So, uh, who did?” my mom asked gently, as if hoping my answer had been a mistake.

I looked up, mid-bite. Seriously, were we still talking about this? “I don’t know.”

“But why do you have it, then?”

A close approximation of my kindergarten artwork, circa 2011.

“My teacher told us to take a painting home. I liked that one.” After all, even if I had no talent in the visual arts arena, I could still recognize a pretty picture when I saw it.

Silence. My parents’ eyes flicked to the picture. To me. To the picture – the one I hadn’t done with my own skinny little fingers and globby kindergarten paint.

They stopped saving for art school but, just in case, asked me to bring home a few paintings of my own instead of leaving them for my teacher to discard – an easy request since I created a new masterpiece every afternoon. And each day it was the same: a house with curtains in the windows, a slanting stick figure family of four, sun in the upper corner. Tulips. Grass. Our pets made an occasional cameo appearance. Sometimes there was a rainbow.

To this day my drawings look as if I did them with my left hand while crossing my eyes, but that’s okay because I never had art school aspirations anyway. I wanted to be something much more practical: an author.

  • Hahahahahaha!! Ohmygod, I LOVE this story! You little grub, letting your poor parents imagine they had a tiny Pollock on their hands! I am very, very glad that you decided to be a writer instead!

    (And treasure your parents for their pure love. When I watch Amelia paint, I’m usually really unimpressed. Yesterday I caught myself saying, “Seriously? You’re mixing every single color again. Baby, it makes brown. After five years of doing this every day, do we really need to test it? Why don’t you just let me buy you a gallon of brown paint to work from instead of all these little globs of color I have to spend fifteen minutes squirting so you can make brown.” Hahaha! What do I know, though. Maybe she’s a genius and shes in her Brown Period?)

    • Ha! I was just so oblivious. I guess it never occurred to my five-year-old self that they wouldn’t know it was mine. And your description of Amelia literally made me laugh out loud.

  • So … I’m still stuck in bed, feeling totally lousy, but this post brought a smile to my face for the first time all day. I love how innocent your kindergarten-self was in all this. Mostly, I love that you knew you wanted to be a writer even at such a young age. It seemed so magical then, didn’t it? Still does 🙂

    • Oh, no! You’re still sick? How awful. I’m so glad this post made you smile, though. Of course, I eventually grew out of wanting to be a writer because it wasn’t practical, but that didn’t last, since here I am!

  • Tamar

    Lizzy, I have this exact same conversation with David EVERY. TIME. WE. PAINT. Especially at Christmas, when I just want him to make some nice red-and-green designs we can use for wrapping paper. And he makes what looks like a painting of the world’s biggest turd.

    • Ha! Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like brown splotches on your wrapping paper.

      • Hahahaha! See Caryn…you always bring the potty humor, even when you didn’t intend it!

  • I hope to be practical enough to be a writer someday. For now, you will be my inspiration.

  • LOL! That’s okay. One thing the world needs less of is Jackson Pollock imitators. 😉

  • Great story! I loved it. Yeah, I WISH I could draw the pictures in my mind, but at least I can draw them with words!

  • Jen

    Nice! I can picture you and Mike as youngsters, tormenting one another at the table. Also can easily imagine your parents being as warm,loving, and optimistic as they continue to be! Looking forward to seeing you in a couple weeks!

  • That is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard. I love the fact your parents framed it. Glad you’re a writer though.

  • Best Kindergarten story EVER! I taught Kindergarten for two years and I can TOTALLY see this happening. Can’t wait to share this with my former K-colleagues.

  • A writer is more practical than an artist? Hahahaha!
    My children ask me to draw pictures for them, then they imitate mine but there pictures are so much better. It’s shameful, but I accept my lack of artistic ability. No one’s perfect. : )