The Artist, Age Three by (3 Stories)

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     Across the street from the avenue on which I live in New York City is a park. It is about a half mile long, and aside from being the location of the mayor’s official residence, it contains small wooded areas, playgrounds, a dog run, many benches, and on the far side of the park a walkway that is adjacent to the East River.
     On many afternoons, when the weather permits, I go to the park to sit on one of the benches along the river for an hour or so to read or watch the boats go by. A few days ago I was in the park, and when I left I went out along a lane that has, on one side, some benches and a wooded section that overlooks them, and on the other, a large lawn next to the mayor’s residence. On sunny afternoons, the lawn is typically filled with young children, and on the benches are their mothers or nannies, and elderly people enjoying the sun.
     As I started down the exit lane, I noticed two little girls, no more than three or four years old, playing what looked like a made-up game about a picture. They had drawn a chalk line about ten yards long on the lane, inches from the lawn. It was composed of alternating foot-long segments of two colors, orange and white, which corresponded to the chalk pieces the little girls were holding. When I first noticed them, they were both standing at the far end, the beginning of the line. Then one of them ran toward the end of line near me, added another segment, then ran back to her waiting friend, who ran toward me, repeated the procedure, and ran back. And so it went for a minute or two, first one, then the other, taking turns building up the picture.
     As I approached the far end, I noticed that their nannies were packing up. One of them left with her charge just as I came abreast of them, but the other was still packing their things, while the girl sat on the bench, waiting. Normally, I would have kept walking and left the park. But this time I didn’t: I wanted to know what that line was. So I walked over to the nanny and asked if it would be all right if I asked the girl a question. After taking a moment to size me up, she said yes. I leaned over to the girl, who was now looking at me, and asked, “Would you tell me what that is a picture of?” Shyly, she turned away slightly, and replied in a whisper, “It’s a rainbow.” I was so stunned that I almost fell over in sheer delight. It was a rainbow, without question. It took me a moment to regain my composure and say, “That’s the prettiest rainbow I have ever seen. Thank you for drawing something so nice for everyone to look at.” She didn’t say anything until her nanny reminded her to say thank you, which she did, still in the quietest of whispers. I thanked the nanny and walked away, turning to wave to the girl, who was now watching me.
     As I returned home, all I could think was that I had just met a real artist, age three or perhaps four, but a real artist nonetheless. She and her friend knew exactly what they were doing, what effect they were trying to achieve through their collaborative effort, and had invented a way to achieve it. Unfortunately, I did not have my mobile phone with me, so there is no photo to document their rainbow. The next day it rained, washing it away.
     Henri Matisse, who created some of the most beautiful, joyful pictures in all of Western art, would have loved the rainbow. God willing, in twenty years my young friend will still be an artist, bringing to us the gift of her own beautiful, joyful pictures.

As I returned home, all I could think was that I had just met a real artist, age three or perhaps four, but a real artist nonetheless.
Profile photo of Fred Suffet Fred Suffet

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Thanx Fred for this lovely memory of the young artist in the park!

    And welcome back to Retrospect!

  2. Dave Ventre says:

    It’s always been my belief that artists, inherently, see/hear/feel/touch/smell a different world from the one we are all ostensibly living in.

  3. A very dear picture of a creative event.
    Thank you

  4. pattyv says:

    Thank you for this story Fred. In a week of sad news, this story gives me hope. I can see the girls with their orange and white chalk running back and forth creating their picture with joy and excitement. She probably was so excited you enjoyed it. I loved your description of the walk, felt like I had joined you. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Such a lovely story, Fred. With only two pieces of colored chalk, these little girls invented their own rainbow, out of sheer delight and imagination. If that isn’t art, what is? How kind of you to compliment the artist (after approaching her so carefully and respectfully). I hope she and her friend took great delight in their work and will make many more wonderful vistas to delight all who appreciate them.

    • Fred Suffet says:

      Hi Betsy. I’m delighted you enjoyed the story, and I’m glad you agreed with me that what those girls were doing was indeed art. We normally don’t think of artists as being so young. But if what they’re doing is identifiable as art, then why not call them artists?

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a lovely story. As an early childhood educator, I marveled at the creativity and innate sense of beauty and color the children exhibited. At some point (and I have seen this with my grandchildren) kids decide they “can’t draw,” which makes me very sad. I wonder how formal schooling seems to take the artist out of so many children.

    • Fred Suffet says:

      Thank you, Laurie, I’m glad you liked the story. That’s a very interesting comment, and like you, I’m saddened to know children who are able to put attractive colors and shapes together on paper eventually lose interest because they tell themselves they can’t draw. It’s hard to know what the solution is to that. Are there enough art teachers around who can keep their interest up, perhaps by teaching them the rudiments of drawing?

  7. Jim Willis says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Fred, that even the most artistic images can come from children. In fact, as I think about the oils and pastels my father did in his 80s and early 90s, it occurs to me that age has little to do with the passionate quality of what an artist can produce.

    • Fred Suffet says:

      Hello Jim. I really appreciate your comment because, like you, I can attest from personal experience the truth of what you say. My mother was trained as an artist back in the early 1930s. But because she had to make a living before she married, she became a womens-wear designer. However, throughout her life she loved to draw, and was especially adept with pastels and charcoal. I remember, even in the years shortly before she died, that whenever I went to visit her, she would have fresh batch of drawings to show me. It sustained her until the very end.

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