Scribbles by Bea, age 3
Scribbles by Bea, age 3

Artist Cy Twombly built a fantastically successful career with his wild unruly mark-making. There’s something to be said about a good scribble. Little kids are awesome at it. No holds barred. Crayon 1—Go! Crayon 2—Go! Crayon 3, 4, 5—Go! Go! Go! That unapologetic enthusiasm and innocence is what Pablo Picasso and Jean Dubuffet and thousands of other passionate artists pursue in their work. My little friend Bea draws a straightforward line and says, “Snake.” She draws a simple circle and says, “Mushroom.” You never get that awkward, embarrassed disclaimer of “I’m really bad at this,” or “I can’t draw” from a child…

Until erasers get introduced. BLEGH! The eraser is the recognition of mistakes. There weren’t any mistakes in art until that damn eraser showed up, constipating everybody’s drawing. When I was a guest art teacher at an elementary school, I wanted to ban those biddy blocks of rubber from the classroom. Some kids couldn’t get past the first pencil stroke without groping for an eraser. They’d whimper at the edge of their paper, like pups at the edge of the pond, wanting to dive in but afraid.

Some time in the last 2-3 years Max has also gotten self-conscious about his artwork. On the bright side he recognizes he is sharp in math, music, sculpting, and video making. But “I’m not a good artist,” he tells me. The self-deprecation makes me sad, and I wonder how he came to that conclusion since he’s created such inventive works in his short nine years. I guess he knows his hand-eye coordination is not his forté—his handwriting leans towards chicken scratch. So I imagine his hand doesn’t draw the lines that he wants to either.

It’s kind of a shame we have to teach our kids not to let their markers run rampant onto the tables and walls. What a lovely indulgence to scrawl beyond the boundaries of a page. When Max was little, I painted murals in his bedroom. I really didn’t have a good excuse for him as to why I was permitted to make art on the walls and he wasn’t. So we both took our pencils, and laying on our bellies on his bed, he drew Sir Topham Hat on the neighboring wall and I sketched Percy the steam engine. I wish I had thought to take a picture before moving out of our old apartment. I love collaborative efforts with Max. When I make pictures with him I am reminded to let go and be open because I can’t control the shapes that spill out of his crayon any more than he can control what comes out of mine. Creative expression is priceless, not precious.

So when was the last time you had a good scribble? And I don’t mean scribbling to blot out the unwieldy paragraph in the essay you’re struggling to write. I mean, grabbing a crayon—better yet, a colorful fistful of markers—and letting your wrist then your arm flail over a giant sheet of paper leaving behind trails of visual energy. Make a mark for the sheer pleasure of doing so. Liberate that beastly inner child. It feels good. You should try it some time.


Kid Art: In Praise of Scribble and Scrawl
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