what is a dollar

Most days in the studio are very busy.  I can often be found at the head of a long line of children, each eager to share a story, or to have something attached with hot glue, or to procure a newly threaded needle, or to plan their latest creative endeavor.  Today was no different.  As I worked and listened and assisted, I glanced around the room and noticed a fair haired boy seated at a remote table.  He colored and glued in peaceful solitude.  Satisfied, I returned to the line of eager children.

At the end of the day, I glanced up to see the fair haired child waiting patiently and proudly to share his art with me.  I approached him and he handed his piece of art up to me with a gesture of confidence.

I responded too quickly and without reflection.  I responded with the unquestioned bias of a “grown up”.  I looked at his collage and the crisp dollar bill glued to the front.  I inwardly gasped.  I calmly explained why we couldn’t use money on our art pieces and carefully began to remove the dollar bill.  His eyes welled up with tears and I stopped myself.

I took a deep breath.I crouched low and with great care, I apologized. I explained that I was worried that I might get into trouble for allowing a child to use money in this way but I wanted to understand his art. His face cleared and he slowly explained how he had made this picture for the art show. I smiled and asked him if he would tell me more about the dollar he had used and he said:

“A dollar is something that you earn for doing something.  It’s made out of paper, but it’s just paper.  I use paper to make art.I got this dollar from a person.  They gave it to me, just because, and now it’s a picture.”

I told him that I would be proud to hang it in the art show and he smiled broadly at me before returning to his class. I stared after him, amazed and humbled by the beauty and wisdom of children.A dollar IS paper after all and it is hardly worth the price of a child’s belief in himself as an artist with a right to express and be heard.

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