Grandma’s art history camp falls flat on excitement scale

I was one of those mothers who believed that every moment was a potentially teachable moment. Not having learned my lesson the first time around, I continue exercising my somewhat misguided beliefs with our grands.

Since a number of them enjoy painting, I thought we might do some intentional painting instead of just slinging paint on paper, the table and chairs and the walls like we usually do.

So we had art camp. It was more like art afternoon and camp was in the kitchen, but I was full-bore intentional. I dug up a wonderful children’s book on the American painter Georgia O’Keefe, known for bright, bold close-ups of flowers. I found jars to mix water and food coloring in and even scored some canvases on sale.

The small painters put on their paint shirts, or emergency clothes as they call them. There is a wild assortment of emergency clothes in a drawer upstairs, which says a lot about what happens at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

“I’m going to tell you about an artist named Georgia O’Keefe,” I said.

“Did she live long ago?” one asked.

“Yes.”

“Is she dead?”

“Yes.”

The inspiration meter was flat-line. I tried to rebound by showing them O’Keefe’s paintings of eye-popping poppies, rich purple petunias and regal morning glories.

“What do you like about O’Keefe’s paintings?”

“I like how O’Keith stayed in the lines.”

“O’Keefe.”

“Yeah, O’Keith.”

“I like that she made the flowers BIG!” said another.

“I like that she didn’t have a fit.”

“Who said she had a fit?”

“I think you’ve got that one upside down, Grandma,” said the 4-year-old.

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

It wasn’t going the way I envisioned. Life rarely does.

They picked flowers from the yard and placed them on the table next to the prints of O’Keefe’s. We talked about layering colors, painting something larger than it is in real life and filling all the space on the canvas.

I explained that Georgia worked slowly, perfecting composition and layering colors for weeks and months at a time.

They whipped out their paintings in 15 minutes.

One who had picked a black-eyed Susan to paint looked at her work, looked at an O’Keefe painting, looked back at her work and seemed satisfied. Then she rolled a big old paintbrush in the blob of yellow on her plastic palette and drew a great big sun in the corner of her painting. Then she put a happy face on it.

Another one painted a zinnia. She looked at her work, looked at O’Keefe’s and seemed pleased. Then she sat up straight and finished off her piece by painting her name so large it filled the bottom third of the canvas.

They may have been implying that O’Keefe had room for improvement.

Don’t we all?