This holiday season, give your kids an empty box

Courtney in the Garden, by Michael Evans
Courtney in the Garden by Michael Evans

When I was growing up, some parents threatened ill-mannered kids with a box of switches and ashes for Christmas. It sounded cruel to me and luckily I never received such a miserable gift. But this holiday season, I encourage parents to give their children an empty box. I’m not suggesting just any empty box; I’m talking about an archival box to hold your kids’ art collection.

Now, perhaps more than any time in recent decades, we see the menacing grip materialism has on society. Stuff is important in our lives. But are we encouraging kids to collect the right stuff?

Today, some teenagers already have a collection of “outdated” iPhones. Others have owned every gaming system that has existed since they were born. But do any of those kids own a single piece of original art?

Imagine a world in which every person started an art collection during childhood. It’s certainly not a difficult concept to understand. Maybe they would collect artwork they create, or pieces they find at craft fairs, or even yard sales.

We often only think about buying art to decorate our walls. But that’s not the only—or even best—way to collect art. I have several boxes of artwork, some that hold my own photographs and others that contain photos, drawings, and etchings I’ve collected from fellow artists. From time to time, I look through my collection and I always experience the same sense of joy I felt when I purchased or received each piece.

The mountain of commercial products we buy ends up creating mountainous landfills. But the gift of a painting, drawing, sculpture, or photograph can pass from one generation to the next. When I lived in California, I met a couple of people who owned collections of photographs created by masters such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. They’d inherited their collections from grandparents who had helped support the artists during the lean years of their careers.

That’s not to say you should think about art as assets. That type of thinking usually leads to disappointment. But then again, the unknown artist whose work you collect today might just be tomorrow’s art world sensation.

Helping your kids start an art collection might not lead to priceless treasures, but it will expose them to a world of possessions far more important than the latest mass-produced electronic gadget or fashion trend. So this holiday season, give your child an empty box. Better yet, give them a box with one or two pieces of art to help get them started.


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