Lovely, darling, but is it art?;Opinion

1st May 1998 at 01:00
MY five-year-old son has a way with paint that defies description. Or at least it defies any kind of description that might be called charitable. As an artist, Thomas Mourby works traditionally. Brushes, poster paint and water are his tools, as they were for David Hockney and Peter Blake.

Yet when young Tom applies them to a sheet of paper in Mrs Palmer's art class the inevitable result is a spiral of watery brown goo that resembles nothing more than diarrhoea being sucked in to the path of a passing tornado.

Tom works with the fervour of a true artist and the titles given to his muddy output are various. One goo was simply entitled "Tractor", another depicted "What We Did On Our Summer Holidays" and a third, somewhat alarmingly, was called "Tom's Daddy". To be honest I have had some doubts about the careworn photo that adorns this column, but at least it does have the virtue of being easily distinguishable from a Massey Ferguson tractor or sandcastles on a Cornish beach.

Tom, however, is undaunted by the public's scepticism. He can see beyond the goo to a greater truth and for that I respect his artistic integrity. What I am less happy about is the way Mrs Palmer insists on sending my son's art home with him. If these pictures were simply posted I would not mind too much, but Mrs P believes in regular handing-over ceremonies down at the school gate.

How I blanch at the sight of youngsters tottering out of school with their large damp flags of paper. More chilling still are those five dread words "I done a picture, Daddy". It is for moments like this that the euphemism "Lovely, darling" was coined.

But for a father it is not so easy. Any man who uses words such as "lovely" and "darling" around our way is asking for trouble, so when Tom announces "I done a picture Daddy", I keep it positive but noncommittal. "So you have," I reply, or "My that's very brown, Tom!" But Tom is grown up. He no longer considers Postman Pat the height of sophisticated comedy. How long before he asks for a more detailed critique. "Do you like my picture Daddy?" It is the most difficult question a man ever has to answer.

Tom may have artistic integrity but how do I retain mine at the school gate? That's what I want to know, Mrs Palmer.

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