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.