The Fine Art of Deception

I'm sure there are some parents who save their kid's artwork in a thoughtful, methodical fashion. I can picture them carefully curating their refrigerator doors, choosing the brightest fall landscapes and most graphic hand turkeys. They probably file away each and every flower and cat, or better still, scan them into their computers and create slide shows suitable for sharing with grandparents.

Personally, I throw much of my beloved daughter's artwork away. After she caught me once ("Mommy, how could you?"), I felt awful. So now I am careful to pitch it after she goes to sleep. I have even been known to shred a few lesser works while paying bills. It's not that I don't love my child or wish to discourage her creativity. I try to save projects that seem important to her—and, of course, all the portraits of me. But I live in an apartment in New York with a kid, a cat and 20,000 stuffed animals. Hard choices must be made.

And let's be honest: not every child is a Picasso. Apparently even little Pablo himself didn't get the Picasso treatment. His earliest known works—a drawing of Hercules and another of pigeons—date from approximately age 9. "Picasso drew all day. He was passionate about it," says Pepe Serra, director of the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. "The impression is that the majority of it was lost, because if a child is drawing all day, he produces a lot."

No kidding. Joe Schatz, a stay-at-home dad in Havre de Grace, Md., figures his daughters, 7, 5 and 2, produce at least 10 significant, "look at this, Daddy" projects each day. Deciding what to toss is tough, in part because kids are such great salesmen. "You hear their little feet running over to you, you hear the paper shaking in the air and they're all excited," he says. "You have to say 'that is terrific,' no matter what it looks like." In a post on his blog, Joeprah.com, Schatz explains the rating system he uses to identify keepers. Drawings that include a monster get 1 point; pictures with random math problems get 2. Those with unintentional profanity (there is an impressive example on his site) rate a 10. Any work scoring 5 or more is considered for inclusion in his art-storage system: an overflowing nightstand drawer.

Even parents who are avid archivists have to get rid of something. Vicki Greenleaf, who runs an entertainment PR agency out of her Los Angeles home, saves a lot of her 7-year-old daughter's artwork in a portfolio, organized by grade. When her daughter, McKenna, makes sculptures, Greenleaf takes photos and puts them in a scrapbook. But even she has her limits. McKenna loves to tape things together, including office supplies, leaves, sticks and dirt from the yard. She once built a three-foot-by-four-foot cat condo out of shipping boxes and insisted on keeping it in her mother's home office. Greenleaf threw it away while the second grader was at school. "I have to be sly about it," she says. "I toss things out in the middle of the night. I wait till the housekeeper comes, then I say she threw it away. I think my daughter hates the housekeeper."

I'd like to believe that I am preparing my daughter for real life by not pretending that every brown-marker squiggle she produces is worth framing. Mostly, though, I'm just disorganized. I know there are plenty of products designed to help artwork-deluged parents like me. A portfolio for children's art has been a top seller for years at Lillian Vernon. The company recently introduced My Own Art Gallery, a sort of curtain meant to hang over a door with pockets for displaying artwork. "You could put things in the portfolio and organize them later," suggests Susan Hardie, divisional merchandise manager for Lilly's Kids. "Maybe when you're retired." Sounds like a plan.