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  • Writer's pictureSara Nash

A Mother's Muse: Exploring Abstract Art Through My Son's Eyes

Updated: Feb 11

My four year old son Rowan loves making art. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised—I suspect most if not all kids do. At first, his art wasn’t much to look at; he was just learning to hold the supplies with a steady hand. But several months ago, I started paying closer attention. Like my son himself, his art was constantly evolving. Save for the occasional crude stick figure, Rowan wasn’t making anything I could recognize, but his work was becoming more organized, resembling maps and mazes and game boards, elaborate compositions that had structure, pattern, and a variety of interesting marks. He seemed to have an intuitive eye for composition, color, and movement. When I’d ask him to tell me about his pictures, he’d say stuff like, “All the lines are lasers, all the boxes are traps.” interesting. 

After learning about venus flytraps, one day Rowan came from school and showed me his rendition of the carnivorous plant. Damn, I thought, that’s pretty freaking cool. From that day on, I started keeping all of his drawings, rescuing them before he could inflict his child-safe scissors upon them.

I taped a few of my favorites next to my easel. I wasn’t sure why. I just knew I’d been searching for a new direction to take with my painting practice. For the past four years, I barely painted at all. A combination of having a child, then covid, then breast cancer brought me to a place where I thought painting might just be behind me. Maybe I was all painted out. Maybe painting was just a really long phase that was over. I’ve had other terminal phases, right? 

I’ve always admired abstract painting, but the few times I tried it, I hated it. I couldn’t let go enough to find the magic. The work was crap, and I felt like a fraud. So I figured I’d never try it again. 

Recently, I had the idea, what if I use my son’s compositions as inspiration, and see if I can learn abstract painting from a child? The more I considered it, the more I loved the idea. 

As parents, we spend so much time trying to influence our children. “Eat your broccoli! Do your homework! Stop picking your boogers! Wash your hands, they smell like poop!” But what about all the ways our children influence us? What about the ways they help us play, help us get more comfortable with messes, with not having as much control? What about the ways they enlarge our imaginations, and of course, expand and deepen our hearts? 

So, I’ve found a new direction. It’s a collaboration of sorts, one I think Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, would appreciate.  Most moms worry about dying before we can help our kids grow up. I worry plenty to begin with, and being a cancer survivor has added a lot more fodder to my worry mill.  I sometimes think, should I start emailing him something each day, in case I get sick again or die, so he can know that I was paying attention, treasuring these very dear, important days with him? I tried emailing once, the day I pried myself away from his two year old fingers and drove myself to my first chemo treatment crying. But emailing my 2 year old son to tell him, “Mommy has cancer, and I love you more than anything in the whole world,” just felt so morbid and sad. Like, one day when he’s 18 or 20, which of course I hope to be alive for, he’s going to log into that email account for the first time and see that sad, morbid message. Ugh. No thank you. These paintings seem like a much better way to celebrate our love.

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