An Art History Professor Explains to His 4-Year-Old Daughter Why the Fair Market Value of Her Picture is Actually Far Less Than That of a Thousand Words

You chose to work with a blue Crayola crayon, and I respect that. You’ve been using a lot of blues lately, and I think you’re on to something. It’s a good idea to work out some themes and learn some techniques by limiting your palette. Nevertheless, your picture feels incomplete to me. Form-wise, it’s a staticky blue cloud hovering in space. There’s nothing dynamic about it. You didn’t even push down on the crayon very hard, so there isn’t really any depth of color. There isn’t a single interesting line, and the negative space, though overwhelming, seems to have been completely ignored. This image evokes nothing in me. I can’t even call it ugly. It’s just so-so. Honestly, I’m amazed I’ve even been able to say this much about it.

Please, stop frowning like that. I’m trying to nurture your talent, and your pouting doesn’t help.

Now, now, don’t start crying. I told you, if you can’t take criticism, you have no business trying to make art. Do you think da Vinci cried every time somebody critiqued one of his pieces? No. Of course not. If he did, no one would have appreciated his work. Why, the Mona Lisa is one of the most talked about paintings in the world. They say a picture is worth a thousand words—and, with inflation being what it is, that figure has probably gone up significantly by now—but I’d estimate the Mona Lisa is worth about a hundred million words. Just think of all those tourists every day walking through the Louvre to see da Vinci’s masterpiece, snapping pictures of it and talking excitedly in hundreds of languages about that sensuous woman’s enigmatic smile.

Do you think your picture’s worth a hundred million words? No way. It’s not even worth a thousand Mexican palabras. In fact, I bet if you were to take your picture to Uzbekistan, where talk is cheap, your picture would still only get you about 50 alfoz. And in Germany, an efficient, streamlined country where language is used sparingly, your picture would translate into just one Wort: Scheiße.

Oh, yeah, sure, go play soccer with your brother. Ignore boring old Dad; he’s only trying to help you better yourself. I gave up on your brother a long time ago—he’s got the fine motor skills of a turtle. But if you’re ever going to get out of this Blue Period of yours, it’s going to require a lot of work.

Perhaps the crayons are holding you back. Maybe we should focus on charcoal for a while, ignore color altogether until you’ve rediscovered your line. You’re not even listening to me, are you?

[This piece originally appeared on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.]

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