When I drop Max off in the morning Zoe comes with me. She likes to stay for a while and play. Sometimes she heads for the drawing table, sits down with paper and crayon and scribbles with great intensity. Invariably one of Max’s classmates will offer a critique. Bu hao kan 不好看 (not nice), they say, staring at her scrawls.
Max shares the Chinese tendency for harsh judgment. Sitting in a taxi he informed his grandmother and I that some kids don’t know how to draw their mommies.
We – my mother and I – did our best to temper the criticism, explaining that there were all sorts of ways to draw, but neither of us was satisfied with our response. We both know that, as with everything else, some kid’s drawings are better than others. Not everyone’s skill or talent is the same.
Still, the rigid conformity implicit in the vision makes me uncomfortable. How to judge childhood drawings is not an easy matter. Besides, it is impossible not to detect in these childhood critiques, the intense pressure and total disregard for self esteem that so many adults here complain about when they speak of their past.
When Max pointed to one of Zoe’s drawings at home and told me it was ugly I protested. Her 2-year-old scribbles are beautiful to me (or at least I want her to think so).