The State of the Arts

  Last weekend my family took a trip to a ski resort. On the second day it was brutally cold so we pursued indoor activities instead. Out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I suggested we go to the Norman Rockwell museum, where we could see the famous Four Freedoms series of paintings, as well as other portraits from the civil rights era. My kids hate it when I try to incorporate educational opportunities into their daily lives, so my idea was quickly ruled out.

Instead we drove around for a while and eventually stopped at the Clark Art Institute, an impressive private art collection. The kids weren’t really interested, but saw it as an excuse to get out of the car.

The first room we went into had some beautiful Winslow Homer landscapes, including Undertow; but the kids just shrugged so we went into the next room. That one housed a portrait by Renoir, a small version of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral and Dancer by Degas.

    When I pointed them out, I was told they had never heard of these artists. How could this be? I was fairly puzzled. We have taken them to art museums in NYC, Boston and other places, including London and Rome. Why do they not recognize these names and appreciate the art work? If after all the exposure I have given to my children, they still have this dismal lack of interest or knowledge, then this is a sad sign of where things are headed.

My son recently gave me an elaborate (and possibly valid) explanation of why he prefers television over reading books. It has a lot to do with plot and character development. These take a long time to develop in a novel, whereas it is never an issue in a tv show. He doesn’t have the patience to slowly let things evolve.

Perhaps the same is true with the artwork. Appreciation comes from observation and interpretation- noticing details and figuring out what the artist is trying to express. The desire for instant access and results seems to be too hard to resist. Waiting for the climax of a novel or taking in all the aspects of the artwork require a lot of attention. I will continue to do my best to encourage both of my children to appreciate literature and fine arts; however, I fear that like in Homer’s painting, I am fighting against the undertow.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan
    Jan 19, 2012 @ 11:11:53

    Sounds like maybe your son should try short stories! I’m not usually a fan, but got back into them when we read them for book group the other month. Short and sweet – can read it, and then move on. I feel it takes more skill to write a successful short story than novel anyway, although people who actually write for a living might disagree with me.

    My children are/were lucky enough to have an amazing elementary school art teacher (she is one of a handful of nationally board certified teachers in the Capital District) . She has her students make art projects “in the style of” Degas, Picasso, or whatever artist she chooses. She is able to incorporate information about the particular school of art and the specific artist into the lesson as the kids work on their own art. It has made the kids much more familiar with artists, and they can recognize the work of a particular artist much more easily than I can. However, with all the cuts to education as well as the pressures of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, I fear that fewer and fewer children will get this kind of art education.

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    • themiddlegeneration
      Jan 19, 2012 @ 11:42:59

      I was thinking the same thing about short stories after this conversation. Your kids are lucky to have an art program that is meaningful and fun. It is too bad more value isn’t placed on those programs as part of one’s education. It seems very short-sighted, focusing on memorization rather than creative thinking. The limits put on teachers by NCLB are part of the reason I decided to try something else.

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  2. Carol
    Jan 19, 2012 @ 11:13:41

    Sometimes it takes awhile for kids to appreciate whatever – reading, art, slowing down and watching life develop. Exposure is important, I believe, and those experiences will always linger in their memory banks.

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  3. Mortar and Pistol
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 04:27:03

    Speaking from personal experience, I didn’t give a hoot about art until a trip to the Vatican and a subsequent Art History class in undergrad really made me start appreciating it more. I currently have prints of The Treachery of Images by Magritte and Guernica by Picasso hanging on my walls (best Christmas gifts ever!) and am looking to buy some Dali and Escher in the near future. I bet your kids will start to appreciate art more as they grow older!

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