My 16-year-old son, Alyosha, has always been a gifted artist. At 7, he was drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with panache, which would later be joined by Power Rangers playing basketball (his own touch). In fifth grade, one of his pen-and-inks of a tiger in repose was displayed in the Bangor Mall (the acme of venues for aspiring juvenile artists in Maine). If my son had a star to follow, it seemed to be art.
But sometimes teenagerhood is like a great big bushel basket placed squarely over the lamp of one's talents. Once Alyosha entered high school, I heard little if anything about his artistic undertakings. The "Dad, look at this drawing!" of his earlier childhood had been replaced with the insouciant grunt of adolescence whenever I asked him to show me something he had drawn.
But now, in his sophomore year, the pendulum seems to have swung back. A few weeks ago, my son came home from school with a long, rolled-up tube of gray paper. "Whatcha got?" I pried.
After a modest shrug, he handed the tube to me. I unrolled it and immediately caught my breath when I beheld an absolutely stunning Chinese landscape in pastel, complete with a gloss of Chinese calligraphy in the border.
"Alyosha," I gushed, truly aglow with admiration, "this is good. Very good."
I had caught his ear. "Really?" he remarked.
I nodded without taking my eyes from his work. "You know, you could make money doing this," I told him, by way of suggesting a possible life's direction.
But my comment only garnered a skeptical wave of his hand. "What do you want me to do with this?" I asked him.
Yet another dismissive wave. "Keep it," he said as he headed for the fridge for a postschool stoking of his gastric furnace. "I can always make more."
Regarding my son as the expert on his own artistic vision, I wondered if he could be right, that his work was less than I was making of it. Wasn't I just displaying typical parental bias, envisioning a Da Vinci in my home?
But the next morning, as I reapproached the work, it looked even better to me. Alyosha caught me examining the pastel as he hovered over his breakfast bowl.
"What are you going to do with it?" he asked with a spark of curiosity.
"You'll see," I said.
By the end of the day, I had found the perfect frame a lovely dark cherry. I delicately unrolled the artwork on the kitchen table and laid it against the glass before applying the backing. Then I turned the piece face-up and magic. It was indeed the perfect frame, its dark burgundy playing warm counterpoint against the delicate greens and charcoals of the picture.
When my son came home and saw his framed work lying in state on the kitchen table, he brought a finger to his chin.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" I asked him.
He nodded and wandered off, but I had glimpsed the flash of interest in his eyes.
The next day, I found a fitting place for the piece on a wall in our guest room, a simple space with subdued colors and natural wood, the perfect complement to my son's pastorale.
When I led Alyosha to the shrine, he concurred that it looked "nice."
"Very nice," I added.
Maybe too nice. Because the next day the piece was gone. I discovered the loss just as Alyosha was coming through the door.
"Do you know where your pastel is?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he said. "It's in my room."
And sure enough, there it was, standing watch over an immense pile of dirty laundry, half-obscured by his gym bag. My heart sank.
"Alyosha," I sighed, "it looked so beautiful in the guest room, where visitors could enjoy it."
But my son dug his heels in. "Well," he said, "why don't we just leave it in my room, since I'm the one who made it?"
Now I was totally confused.
"I thought you didn't care for it," I said, ever so delicately.
"Do you still like it?" he asked.
"Of course," I shot back. "It's beautiful."
My son scratched his chin. "Do you really think I could make money with my art?" he asked.
I drew back a tad. "You don't mean...?"
Alyosha flashed his million-dollar smile.
"I have a great deal for you, Dad," he said as he gestured me into his lair.
To make a long story short, the picture is back in the guest room. It cost me $25, which is the cost, I take it, of teaching one's son a lesson about art appreciation.