Some notes doodled while watching the Chuck Jones documentary, Memories of Childhood.
* * *
I asked my mother, what should I teach my kids? She said don’t teach them anything, just give them lots of supplies.
I have been thinking about art supplies and parenting.
Chuck Jones spoke fondly of his wonderful mother, and quoted Gertrude Stein, “Artists don’t need criticism, they need love.” Jones’ father was physically abusive, and yet “he served a purpose,” as Jones recounted in his autobiography, Chuck Amuck!:
But—now listen—every time Father started a new business, he did three things: 1. He bought a new suit. 2. He bought acres of the finest Hammermill bond stationery, complete with the company’s letterhead. 3. He bought hundreds of boxes of pencils, also complete with the company name.
EVERY TIME FATHER’S
BUSINESS FAILED, HIS CHILDREN INHERITED
A FRESH LEGACY OF THE FINEST DRAWING
NOT ONLY THAT!
We were forbidden—actually forbidden—to draw on both sides of the paper. Because, of course, Father wanted to get rid of the stationery from a defunct business as soon as possible, and he brought logic to bear in sustaining his viewpoint: “You never know when you’re going to make a good drawing,” he said.
We also had perhaps the most vital environmental rule of all: parents who gave us the opportunity to draw, free from excessive criticism, and free from excessive praise—Mother, because she felt that children in the exploration of life could do no wrong, and Father…because he only wanted to get rid of that paper as soon as possible.
Turns out, access to art supplies is a big factor in the life of a young artist. Here’s the cartoonist Lynda Barry:
My mother was actually upset by me reading, and she hated for me to use up paper. I got screamed at a lot for using up paper. The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I sometimes stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper everywhere, in every drawer, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I agonize over using a “good” sheet of paper for anything. I have good drawing paper I’ve been dragging around for twenty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane.
There’s also a “good cop/bad cop” parenting element that seems to pop up. Here’s Milton Glaser:
In my parents I had the perfect combination—a resistant father and an encouraging mother. My mother convinced me I could do anything. And my father said, “Prove it.” He didn’t think I could make a living. Resistance produces muscularity. And it was the perfect combination because I could use my mother’s belief to overcome my father’s resistance. My father was a kind of a metaphor for the world, because if you can’t overcome a father’s resistance you’re never going to be able to overcome the world’s resistance. It’s much better than having completely supportive parents or completely resistant parents.
Ample supplies, a resistant father, and an encouraging mother. Sure, it’s Freudian, but I like it.
And God help the aspiring artists with perfect childhoods!
Alex Gregory for the New Yorker: