Kids and the arts

Do you remember the first time you became aware of art and classical music? I think I was about 11 years old when I first begged my mom to buy me a calendar of Impressionist art and a 10-pack box of classical music CDs from Costco.

It was probably because Anne Frank was my hero at that age (I’d read her Diary of a Young Girl over and over), and if she said she loved and found solace in art and classical music, then I wanted to too.

Monet’s 1873 Poppy Field in Argenteuil—from that same Impressionist calendar, I’m sure—is one of the first artworks I remember ever registering. Probably because I grew up near the countryside and the feel of the wind rippling over the poppies resonated with me.

Of course, my first exposure to opera came from Looney Tunes, like “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera, Doc?” (I still can’t hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries without hearing Elmer Fudd echo, “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!” in my head. Or the overture from The Barber of Seville without picturing Bugs and that mini lawn mower he uses to shave Elmer Fudd’s sprouting dome.)

That way of making a potentially stuffy subject enjoyable reminds me of how in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Francie’s warm and vibrant music teacher Mr. Morton “taught [the kids] good music without letting them know it was good.”

“He set his own words to the great classics and gave them simple names like ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Serenade’ and ‘Street Song’ and ‘Song for a Sunshine Day.’ Their baby voices shrilled out in Handel’s ‘Largo’ and  they knew it merely by the title of ‘Hymn.’ Little boys whistled part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony as they played marbles. When asked the name of the song, they’d reply, ‘Oh, “Going Home.”‘ They played potsy, humming ‘The Soldiers’ Chorus’ from Faust which they called ‘Glory.'”

I’m convinced that kids have a natural affinity for fine and performing arts when you know how to play it to them. Consider Amelia Newcomb’s 2002 editorial “At 10, Hungry for the Masterpieces” for The Christian Science Monitor. Newcomb’s third-grade teacher, Miss Crankshaw,

“apparently saw no reasons her third-graders shouldn’t be conversant in European art of the 16th to 19th-century. Each Monday, she’d post a copy of a painting in a corner of our classroom, along with some notes. Our instructions were to spend some time with both before Friday afternoon, when she would stop the clock and draw us into an end-of-week art history chat that not one kid ever said was boring.”

Third grade! I just think that’s awesome. There’s so much fascinating storytelling there, so much opportunity for creativity and interpretation and self-expression for the kids.

That’s why I like volunteering at Art in Action, which brings visual arts to the elementary school classroom by putting together art projects inspired by famous painters and encouraging students and teachers to use their right brain and experiment with modeling what they see. (Below is bagged yarn put together by One Brick volunteers for a tapestry project.)

(Bottom photo: One Brick)

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3 thoughts on “Kids and the arts

  1. Yes, I love to witness joy as a person’s visceral reaction to a great artwork of piece of music. It’s so unfortunate when people somehow get the idea that a particular style of art or music is beyond them, somehow, and subsequently shut themselves off from exploring and experiencing something new.

  2. This post makes my heart sing. I too discovered Mozart when I was a child of four. My Dad’s best friend had a record player …. playing the old 78’s. I was in love with Ezio Pinza singing Mozart arias. I would sit in front of the console for hours while the grown-ups played bridge.

    There isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that we are born wired for beauty. In forty years of teaching virtually ALL of my students when given the choice of a piece of classical music or one of the standard children’s song in the primers, chose the classics. I never told them which was which, just played the pieces for them and had them choose. And I played both as if they were equal in value. Just out of curiosity. But Mozart/Hayden/Clementi won for every one of all my students except for one child. That’s a sample of some three hundred students.

    And years ago in Bombay, where I worked as an art critic, I had a favorite little exercise for myself. The State Gallery was the only air-conditioned public building open to everyone off the street. At lunchtime, the hand cart pullers and other street vendors would often duck in to cool off. I would choose one and then ask him which of the works on display was his favorite. They were often very serious about the whole thing and would take some time carefully examining each painting. Then they’d choose one. And almost invariably they would choose the best ….

    I was astounded …. again and again. Because these humble workers had a natural afinity for the best. It was an incredibly high percentage …. and touched me deeply. In their souls was a impulse to beauty. When I wrote my articles, I had the weight of an extensive education behind me, but also there was another voice which i cherished …. the voice of the ordinary man with no education or experience who responded naturally and from his heart.

    You nailed it. You are right. And isn’t it a wonderful thing!

  3. I’m still waiting for an explanation of the pinecone/artichoke! I got into classical music from having in on all the time when I was growing up. Downside of that, I found it hard later in life to adjust to the more modern classical genres.

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