Remember the days when you went to school. Probably once a week, you had art class. You drew and painted and explored and created.
And then you took your work home, proud and eager to show Mom. And she would gush over it and tell you how proud she was of you. She might even hang it on the fridge.
Every day that I spend with kids in the art room, I assume this will be the final destination of nearly every project we complete together. As we paint and draw, the work being done needs to be seen. It needs to be shared. Every time I hang a class’s work outside the room, I always get lots of compliments from parents and teachers. It feels good to be the art teacher. When the kids’ work looks good, I look good.
So I was surprised recently when a mother came through my door to say, “I am so sorry about my daughter’s project. It’s embarrassing!” She let out a laugh as she left my room and walked past her her daughter’s work, hanging with the rest of her class.
What kind of mother would call her own daughter’s artwork embarrassing, much less tell her daughter this?
Could this mother actually be doing her daughter some kind of huge favor?
Embarrassing Ourselves Without Knowing It
The laugh that mother let out reminded me of my own mother. Dad called it a “bar room” laugh. It’s a loud, shouting laugh that can be heard over a crowd. It’s tinged with snark. It invites other people to laugh along.
I knew I was being invited to laugh along. Because we weren’t talking about a seven-year-old and her precious fingerpainting. We were talking about a pre-teen girl.
“I wanted something we could hang up. This is going straight to her room,” Mom added.
It wasn’t that the work was done poorly. The quality of the craftsmanship was adequate. The subject matter was the problem. The girl was simply fixated on some embarrassing pre-teen idols and icons (you know how preteen girls are), and her work was saturated with it in the most melodramatic way possible. And there it was, hanging on the wall for Mom and the entire school to see.
This entire exchange made me realize two things:
For All Our Embarrassing Moments
I had wrongly assumed that all the art brought home by students was precious in their mothers’ eyes. Not this time. The student will take it home, and Mom will somehow tell her the truth. She probably won’t laugh in her face, but it will hurt a little bit.
Think of all the moments your parents were there for you in those moments, to tell you that you were embarrassing yourself.
The awkward teenage years when your parents tried to guide you through relationships and general hygiene. Some of us had a harder time than others. Sometimes in our younger years, we’d blurt out embarrassing words that we heard at school, and Mom and Dad would deal with that. All of the stumbles and embarrassments and “accidents”…many times, our parents were there. In fact, our parents were probably embarrassed more often by us than we were by them.
And as I think back to all the times my dad gently, lovingly, quietly informed me in private that I was embarrassing myself, I shudder to think where I would be if he had just let me keep carrying on in ignorance.
As difficult as it is, we need someone who we trust to tell us we are embarrassing ourselves, to tell us not just that our fly is down, but that we are going the wrong way at something big in life.
Can’t Afford to Be Sentimental
Secondly, we simply cannot afford to be sentimental about everything we do.
Sometimes, what we make is just lousy…
…or just not important. It’s chaff.
That’s okay, because finding out some work we’ve done is lousy or unimportant is usually a learning and growing experience. But if we hang dearly onto all the chaff we’re making, we can never distinguish the good from the bad. We never discover our true gifts and callings. We never figure out how to really make a great difference in the world.
Not every art project is meant to be hung on the fridge. They don’t all have to be masterpieces. Sometimes, it’s better to toss it in the trash and move on.
Do you have someone you trust to tell you that you’re embarrassing yourself?
[photo: lawrence_thefourth, Creative Commons]