I vividly remember my childhood. Sometimes I can see it so clearly that I wonder if I might actually have a photographic memory (and if I do, then where the hell was it during European History 101?).
One of my most consistent memories is of staring at paintings in my parents’ and grandparents’ houses, and imagining the worlds they were set in. What were the people doing; why were they doing it; what did the air feel like there?
For as long as I can remember I have known that art, in all its varying forms, is made to tell stories (whether I understood those stories or not is a whole other beast). As I got a bit older and began to appreciate a wider span of creative avenues, I discovered that art is created to make statements, express opinions and draw attention to the things nobody wants to talk about. The brilliant part is that since it rarely employs language in the form we are most accustomed to, when art brings an issue to the table, people are more comfotrable engaging in uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations.
And that’s what I think my son needs to know. The arts get a bad rap; I know this because it was the first place that I ever remember feeling like I belonged, so since I was VERY young, I have been privvy to all the opinions that people commonly have about music, literature, and visual arts – “It’s what you do when you do if you want to become a teacher” – that’s one of the most popular ones. I’ve also heard the words “useless degree” being tossed around (I may have actually said it myself a few times… especially in the years after I graduated from U of T only to work in retail).
But I want to make sure that my son sees art for what it is. I want to look at paintings and listen to music with him, and ask him what he thinks the painter was feeling while he worked, or how he thinks the composer wants him to feel when he listens to her song. I want him to know that writers are recording the reality of the time in which we live – In the future, people will form their opinions about the past by referencing their words. I don’t want him to see artists as pipe dreamers or naive idealists, when in fact they deliver such important messages through their works.
The world (and his maternal grandfather) will teach him the importance of business, and of science and technology. We can’t escape those messages, so when my son grows up, and begins to make decisions about the life he wants for himself, I can promise you that he will know all about the how honourable and widely respected those professions are. His father will teach him about sports – not just how to play, but about loyalty, teamwork, commitment, pride, hard work, and grace. He’ll learn that his body is a tool that his brain has power over and he can accomplish incredible things – but only if he decides he wants to.
I feel that as his mother, though, I have a responsibility to him, to teach him that art is just as important, and should he feel the urge to create, he should never repress it. If he never feels that pull, that’s completely fine – I understand that it’s not something that everybody can relate to. But if he does, I would hate for him to feel embarassed about it, or mentally set it aside because he’s been made to think that it will distract him from success.
If it needs to, art will find it’s way in, and if you explore it, it can bring you something that feels different to traditional success, but just as good – if not better.
I need my son to know how art imitates life. He needs to understand that artists are the ones asking questions, and bringing up the hard topics; my hope is that whether or not he wants to join the conversation, he will realize that it will always serve him well to actively listen to what they’re telling him.
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Are there any lessons you are hell bent on teaching your littles? I would love to hear them! Feel free to leave comments
*lead image by Ben Sasso www.bensasso.com