The Power of a Blank Canvas: Turning Art Into Conversation

19 FEB 2019

Dane Holmes, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Human Capital Management of Goldman Sachs, talks about how a simple family art project led to so much more.

By Dane Holmes

For many children, mid-February marks the much desired winter break – a week off from school to recharge and have some fun. For us parents though, it begs the question of how to keep everyone entertained and getting along – a challenging task for even the most creative parents. If you're looking for something to do with your kids this winter season, I might have an idea for you...

To start at the end of the story, I recently hung a new piece of art on my office wall. I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty cool. It’s also been nice to have colleagues come in, notice and compliment it and ask me who the artist is. The answer that surprises everyone: my kids.

We recently decided to do a family art project – my wife and I were looking for an activity to keep the kids entertained while encouraging them to work on something together, without the distraction of “screens”. They each selected a few different colored markers and then took turns drawing horizontal lines across a blank white canvas. No specific pattern or order, just whatever they thought looked best. Ultimately, we filled the canvas with multicolored lines. Then, we asked our kids to think about words define our family values – the things we most believe in.

They seemed on board with the concept and started throwing out different ideas. They debated words, discussing their meaning and giving examples of why they felt they resonated with our family. The kids landed on seven words like effort, truth and humor (although I should add that I had to disqualify a few. “Pizza”, I told them, while undeniably important, did not count).

We then used white stick-on letters to spell out the words starting towards the top of the canvas and moving down. But they weren’t just any words on any canvas. This canvas, I told them, was made by us and would serve as a testament to the things we care about most and that we strive to demonstrate in our daily lives. 

We ended up with, what I think, is a pretty cool-looking piece of art that the kids are proud of, and we had a fun and memorable time creating it. For me, the best part was the conversation that took place over the course of its creation. I witnessed my children in dialogue with one another about some of life’s most significant lessons and I learned a lot about how they see the world. It was truly special. And now, hanging on my office wall, is something that started as a family project to pass the time, and ended up having a whole lot more meaning. It’s a conversation starter for all those that enter my office and a nice daily reminder of what really matters.


Read more articles by Dane Holmes on LinkedIn.