Oscar had some art homework to do over the holidays. He was supposed to take a photograph of his favourite meal. As you can imagine, this was tricky for a number of reasons:
He is the most indecisive child in the world. His favourite anything changes forty times a minute. Food is the worst thing for him to make decisions about. There is so much of it, and he is a hearty trencherman.
We eat a lot, hence fuel for the indecisiveness.
We are also rather hungry when we eat, as a rule, and much more focussed on forking the food into our faces than we are thinking about taking artistic photographs of it. It’s why we would be so rubbish if we took up Instagram on a serious basis. No food to photograph. Just crumbs.
We also eat quickly. I learned it from living in a house full of hungry people. If you don’t bolt it down as soon as the food hits the table, it is gone. I seem to have passed this trait on to my offspring, which means that if you haven’t decided and taken a photo in thirty seconds you might as well put the camera down.
So, instead of photography, I decided that we should raid the craft cupboard, which is still bulging at the seams from all the many artistic endeavours we have attempted over the years.
We bundled everything onto the kitchen table and stared at the formidable heap of materials before us. It was quite daunting actually.
Before Oscar could start being indecisive about the medium in which to work I rail loaded him into deciding that ice cream sundaes were his favourite thing to eat ever. This was mainly because I can draw an ice cream sundae, and it is not something he would discount if he were forced to choose at gun point.
Oscar’s drawing skills are interesting. I am not sure if it is down to an overload of Minecraft on the X-Box or a general indifference to how things really look, but he does tend to draw everything in wonky, cube form.
Every time he has an artistic type of homework we discuss the idea of actually ‘looking’ at things in real life, and then trying to draw what we see. We also discuss the idea of ‘remembering’ what things look like, when, for instance, I cannot be bothered to put together an entire ice cream sundae just to demonstrate what ice cream looks like when rammed into a tall glass with cream and fruit.
We have also been known to use the iPad to find pictures of things he has never seen and is never likely to see, like velociraptors or giant, inflatable Jeff Koons’ dog sculptures. He likes using the iPad, it makes him feel more technological, and less artisty.
This time I was able to draw on his vast knowledge of the ice cream sundae to elicit some clear ideas of what he was to draw. I drew him a huge, sundae glass, and left him to his own devices.
When I came back to see how he had filled it, he had mostly filled it with small, wonky cubes, and zig-zag and diagonal lines.
I banged my head against the table gently, and we discussed how ice cream looks in a bowl, and what shape things are when they melt, and what things might actually be cubes and what might actually be more curved, and rounded. He looked bewildered. The curve, it seems, is an alien shape, not to be borne.
I drew my own ice-cream sundae glass, and proceeded to show him how I would fill it with lovely, curvaceous, plumptious objects. He nodded enthusiastically. I thought we had reached our eureka moment.
When I came to look at the next stage in proceedings, the ice cream in the glass had become slightly more curvy, but it is fair to say that the cream looked like the spikes on an echo-cardiogram, and on the whole, it was still fairly cubist in style.
I gave up.
To save agonies over which type of art/craft he would use to finish off the masterpiece I suggested that he use different things for different layers. This went down a storm, and I left him sticking sharp, triangular pieces of beige paper all over the top of his sundae glass, while I went to have a little lie down.
He is delighted with it, and this is what matters. This is what I keep saying to myself.
It is a mantra I had to learn when Tilly decided at the age of two to go into a black phase and paint wrist watches all over herself in poster paint that didn’t come off for three weeks. It is what I told myself when every single one of them went out of the lines, or mixed all the plasticine together to make ‘breen’ the colour of the universe, or when they ate scratch and sniff stickers, or used crochet hooks to maim each other with.
It is what I tell myself as I pour myself a large glass of Pinot noir and congratulate myself on never having once thought that being an art teacher in charge of small children might be a good career move for me.